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Soldiers accused of beating farmers

Timeline: Samlot land dispute
Farmers relocate to Samlot district’s Prey Thom and Chamlan Romeang Lea villages after being offered 30-by-70-metre plots of land along with 5 hectares of farmland in exchange for US$93.
Military officials begin trying to evict the farmers from sites in the two villages. An unidentified Korean company, in collaboration with local military officials, begins trying to evict farmers living at another site in Prey Thom village in early 2009.

April 26, 2010
Pich Sophon, a 60-year-old resident of Chamlan Romeang Lea village, is shot and killed by four unknown assailants in an attack that villagers say is likely linked to the disputes. Pich Sophon had been instrumental in advocating on behalf of the 141 families involved in the three disputes. He was also a witness to the April 4 shooting of fellow village advocate Sim Mey, who is believed to have been attacked by the same men.

May 25, 2010
Sim Mey is charged with unintentional damage to property and remanded in custody after being accused of torching a tractor belonging to a military official in 2008. He is released on bail on June 23 and could face one to three years in prison if found guilty. A trial date has not been set.

SOLDIERS involved in multiple land disputes in Battambang province opened fire on a group of 60 farmers cultivating disputed land in Samlot district, and injured two in a subsequent beating, villagers and rights workers said yesterday.

Seak Nal, a representative of Prey Thom village in Kampong Lpov commune, said 10 soldiers from Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Military Region 5 opened fire without warning on Sunday morning as the farmers were planting corn.

“We just wanted to plant corn on our farmland, but they shot at us,” he said.

He added that none of the farmers were hit by the bullets, but that two were injured – one seriously – when the soldiers began beating those who refused to stop farming.

A total of 78 families have been growing corn on 390 hectares of land in Kampong Lpov commune for the past five years, but soldiers from Military Region 5 had been trying to remove them since early 2009, Seak Nal said.

Tuy Bun Ly, deputy commander of Military Region 5, said yesterday that he had heard that shots had been fired during Sunday morning’s altercation, but added that he did not know whether they had come from the farmers or his soldiers.

“I don’t know who used violence against whom. I have to go to find who is right and who is wrong,” he said.

He added, though, that the land in question was protected state forest, and that Military Region 5 was not trying to claim it for the soldiers.

“Our Region 5 is not involved in that land dispute, but if our soldiers did not go to protect that area they will destroy all the trees and clear the state land,” he said.

Military Region 5 is a party to two other land disputes in the district, both dating back to 2007. One of them centres on land in O’Samril commune’s Chamlan Romeang Lea village, and the other, also in Prey Thom village, has pitted villagers against the soldiers as well as a private Korean company.

These disputes have resulted in at least two incidents of violence earlier this year, though soldiers have not been implicated in either one. In April, 60-year-old Pich Sophon, a resident of Chamlan Romeang Lea village who had been instrumental in advocating on behalf of 141 families involved in all three disputes, was shot and killed by four unknown assailants. Earlier that month, he had been witness to a shooting that wounded a fellow advocate, Sim Mey, who is believed to have been attacked by the same men.

Nguon Siha, a 45-year-old resident of Prey Thom village, said farmers who tried to cultivate disputed land in the district were often targets of violence.

“We always have unknown [people] shooting at villagers, and one was shot to death, but police could not find the attackers,” he said.

He added that residents had not yet received a response to a complaint filed in June that called on district governor Hen Sophan to intervene. Hen
Sophan said he was holding a meeting yesterday to address the issue, but declined to comment further.

Yin Mengly, provincial monitor for the rights group Adhoc, said both officials and soldiers should push for a nonviolent resolution. “The soldiers should protect villagers’ security, but they are making more problems for villagers,” he said.



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