AN activist from the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights said Thursday that members of an army unit threatened to kill him after he took a photograph of them cutting down fruit trees on disputed land in Kampot’s Chumkiri district.
“They had already cut down the villagers’ mango, coconut and guava trees before I came. I took only one photo when they were preparing to leave the farmland, but they saw me,” said the activist, 40-year-old Prum Piseth.
“They chased me and threatened to chop me to death with knives and axes, but I evaded them safely. Then they screamed that they would kill me the next time after failing to kill me this time,” he said.
On Wednesday, residents from the district filed a complaint in provincial court against members of the same army unit, who they said had been encroaching on their land and cutting down their fruit trees.
The allegations from the CCHR activist come exactly one week after Prime Minister Hun Sen told military officials to refrain from illegal land-grabbing during a conference at the Ministry of Defence.
The families and members of the military unit have been fighting over the land since 2001. The families say they have lived in the disputed area for decades, but the soldiers say the land was given to them by their former commander.
Representatives of the 300 families living on the disputed land, located in Chres commune, say the military unit has been trying to take control of it since 2001, but that the soldiers’ threats had stopped in 2006 and had not resumed until recently.
Mam Nang, one of the people who filed the court complaint, earlier this week accused members of the military unit of threatening to rape and kill her after she caught them cutting down her fruit trees.
The unit at the centre of the allegations could not be reached for comment on either Wednesday or Thursday, nor could Chhum Socheat, spokesman for the Defence Ministry.
The Chres commune police chief, Teth Bunnos, said Thursday that he believed Prum Piseth’s account of his interaction with the soldiers.
“There was really a threat to kill him from the soldiers, and we are researching and investigating it,” he said.
“When we arrived at the scene, the four soldiers had already left, and we don’t know their identities,” he said.
A resident who identified herself only as Nang said she had grown increasingly concerned for her safety in the past few days.
“It is very quiet here, and I just live with my younger brother and a baby in the house, and they have threatened to come again and again,” she said.