A Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldier shot a 19-year-old farmer dead in Preah Vihear province’s Kulen district on Sunday during a disagreement over a neighbour’s apparent land dispute, witnesses and authorities said yesterday.
According to Srayorn commune police chief Kim Sarien, suspect Poeun Tash, 30, was detained by villagers at the scene on Sunday afternoon after he allegedly shot Try Chamroeun during a verbal disagreement. Tash has been in the custody of district police since yesterday morning.
Pich Sokheng, 60, said she was one of 13 villagers helping Chamroeun plant soybeans on his 2-hectare plot of land in Snar Phar Em village on Sunday when a soldier with a chainsaw began cutting down a tree on her own soybean patch a short distance away.
She and Chamroeun’s younger sister went to ask the soldier to stop, but he refused, saying the land belonged to his boss, Major Sun Horm.
“Suddenly, the soldier made a phone call, and then another soldier armed with an AK rifle came out of the forest,” she said, adding that the newcomer, Tash, fired a shot in the air.
When Chamroeun saw what was happening, she continued, he and other villagers came over to help.
“They walked towards him, asking the soldier to put the gun down to have a talk, but he did not,” she said. “Chamroeun was about three metres away, and the soldier shot him in the left arm once, and then another shot in chest, passing through from the right to the left,” she added. “He fell to the ground covered with blood.”
Other villagers then rushed Tash, restrained him and turned him over to police, said the victim’s aunt, Sros Vanna. The other soldier at the scene fled.
Chamroeun was sent to the commune health centre, but pronounced dead on arrival.
The victim’s father, Svay Min, 69, said his and 10 other families had cleared about 27 hectares of forest for farming in the area in 2011, and had never run into trouble before. But last week, he added, soldiers told them they could no longer farm there because the land belonged to their superior, Major Sun Horm of Unit 41, and the they would have to leave the area.
“A few days ago, the soldiers threatened us, saying ‘you all will not abandon the land unless one or two of you go missing’. They killed my son on purpose,” said Min, himself a former soldier during the Sihanouk and Lon Nol regimes. “It is unspeakable.”
The family yesterday filed a complaint to commune police yesterday demanding $25,000 in compensation, he said, and has asked the court to punish both the soldier and the commanding officer.
“If no one ordered it, the soldier would not dare to shoot like this,” Min said, while grimly allowing that “nothing can make my son live” again.
Contact information for Horm could not be found yesterday, but Meas Yoeun, the deputy provincial military commander, said that while he was not aware of the case the court should take action against the soldier if he had committed the murder.
Deputy Provincial police chief Keo Chamroeun said Tash was likely to be sent to the provincial court today and that he had heard the soldiers were actually felling trees on land bordering the villagers’ plots when the argument broke out.
“The soldier said the villagers wanted to grab and detain him and kept walking towards him, so he shot. It is a murder case, but I do not know if it is connected with a land dispute,” he said.
If the situation were related to a land dispute, it would be reminiscent of the 2012 shooting death of a 14-year-old girl at the hands of state security forces in Kratie province’s Pro Ma village, which was embroiled in a land dispute with the agribusiness company Casotim.
Adhoc senior investigator Chan Soveth said the organisation would continue to investigate, and noted that, despite an ambitious land-titling program and a moratorium on economic land concessions, “land disputes are still a hot issue for Cambodian people”.