Siem Reap Province
JUSTICE Minister Ang Vong Vathana has called on Siem Reap provincial court to provide an update of progress made on its probe of the March 2009 shooting of four Chi Kraeng commune farmers, allegedly at the hands of military police officers.
On the day of the shooting, farmers had been agitating for the right to cultivate land that was awarded to neighbouring Anlong Samnor earlier that year, part of a dispute dating back to 1986.
Rights groups have long bemoaned the fact that no military police have been arrested in connection with the incident, while 11 Chi Kraeng villagers remain behind bars.
A letter to court officials from Ang Vong Vathana, dated May 28 and obtained Sunday, makes reference to a letter received on January 13 from representatives of the Chi Kraeng victims and the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights complaining that the investigation had apparently stalled.
The May 28 letter paraphrases the CCHR letter as saying that Chi Kraeng residents involved in the dispute “remain concerned for their safety and experience grave fear because the perpetrators have not been brought to justice according to the law”.
Ang Vong Vathana goes on to ask the officials to “verify” steps taken with respect to the case since August 31 of 2009, when they reported that interviews with villagers and military police officers had yielded no leads.
Ty Soveinthal, a prosecutor at Siem Reap provincial court, confirmed on Sunday that he had received the minister’s letter, but said he did not know how to respond because none of the shooters have been identified.
“I would like to ask CCHR and other NGOs to work with our prosecutors to identify the shooters. Please do not disturb the minister,” he said.
But the intervention from the ministry was welcomed by rights workers who have been following the case.
Suon Bunthoeun, project officer for CCHR, said he believed Ang Vong Vathana was genuinely trying to help, adding: “I think this letter shows the willingness of the ministry to help find justice for these Chi Kraeng people.”
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for the rights group Licado, also said he believed the ministry’s involvement could quicken the process, and he urged Ty Soveinthal to cooperate with Licadho investigators to bring the shooters to justice.
Loun Sovath, a monk who brought the Chi Kraeng case to the attention of UN human rights envoy Surya Subedi during his visit to Phnom Penh last week, said that in order for justice to be served, high-ranking officials must apply pressure to provincial and district officials.
“Lower officials are part of the problem. They cannot find a proper solution for these victims,” he said.
“I believe both my complaint to the UN envoy and the justice minister’s letter will accelerate the Chi Kraeng investigation.”
Touch Sakal, the police chief of Chi Kraeng district, said Sunday that he had no new information related to the case.
He noted that he told the court a month after the shootings that he did not believe military police had been at fault.
“During that incident some villagers tried to chop the police officers with machetes; the police were just defending themselves,” he said. “I do not know who opened fire.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SAM RITH