POLICE in Kampong Thom province filed a criminal complaint on Wednesday against eight villagers for their alleged involvement in an altercation earlier this week that led to the shooting of three men who used to live on a disputed land concession, the deputy provincial police chief said.
Meanwhile, the rights groups Adhoc and Licadho issued a joint statement condemning the shootings and calling on local officials to grant families who were relocated from the concession site in December the farmland they have been promised.
Three men – 59-year-old Chhum Chhorn and brothers Tuot Chanka, 37, and Tuot Veasna, 35 – sustained bullet wounds when, according to villagers, police opened fire on a group of 40 former residents of the 8,100-hectare section of land in Kraya commune. Some 1,700 families were evicted from the site in December to make way for a rubber plantation to be developed by the Vietnam-based company Tin Bien, which received the land concession in 2007. Local officials have said that the 40 villagers provoked the police, and that the police were acting in self-defence.
Deputy provincial police chief Chou Sam Ath said Wednesday that the criminal complaint had been filed against eight people among the group of 40 who had never lived on the concession land.
None of the injured villagers were included in the complaint, he added.
“Today we have filed a complaint against eight people from outside the village, who came to persuade the villagers to rally against the authorities to take over the company land,” Chou Sam Ath said.
The statement from Adhoc and Licadho, however, contends that all 40 villagers used to live on the concession land, and that the authorities had failed to provide them with the one hectare of farmland that was promised to each of the families who accepted plots of land at a relocation site 7 kilometres away.
“We would like to urge the authorities to not arrest the villagers who protested to demand their farmland. They should take measures to provide farmland to the villagers,” the statement said.
Pich Sophea, the governor of Santuk district, in which Kraya commune is located, said authorities were only looking to arrest people from outside the commune who had incited the evictees.
Chou Sam Ath said he planned to meet with villagers living at the relocation site today to discuss the prospect of providing them farmland.
Despite assurances from officials that none of the three injured men will face arrest, all of them are reportedly in hiding. Chhum Chhorn, who was shot in the stomach and briefly received treatment in Kampong Cham provincial hospital before fleeing to stay with relatives there, said Wednesday that he could not afford further medical treatment.