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Villagers say slaying tied to land disputes

A 60-YEAR-OLD man in Battambang province was shot and killed on Monday night by four unknown assailants in an attack that villagers linked to land disputes that stretch back to 2007.

Pich Sophon, a representative of families living in Chamlan Romeang Lea village in Battambang’s Samlot district, had been instrumental in advocating on behalf of 141 families involved in three land disputes – two with military officials in Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Region 5 and another with an unidentified Korean company, villagers and a rights worker said.

Sin Mey, who has served as a representative of the village, said Pich Sophon was killed while returning home after they had worked to collect thumbprints for a complaint to be filed against RCAF Region 5 and the Korean company.

“They shot him because they want to threaten the villagers so we will stop demanding to keep our land,” said Sin Mey, who said he too had been shot by unknown gunmen during an attack on April 4.

THEY SHOT HIM BECAUSE THEY WANT TO THREATEN THE VILLAGERS."

He added that Pich Sophon had been hit by bullets from an AK-47 three times in the chest and once in the hand.
Khat Sokhom, another resident of Chamlan Romeang Lea village, said she and the other families had been living in the village since 2005, when local officials offered them 5 hectares of farmland each along with 30-by-70-metre plots in exchange for US$93.

Villagers said the military and the Korean company had been trying to evict them from their land since 2007.

Hen Sophan, the governor of Samlot district, said Tuesday that he had been informed of the shooting, but denied that the villagers had made the payments of $93.

“The villagers who live in those villages do not have a land dispute,” he added. “They live on their land, and nobody took over their land.”

However, Chan Soveth, a senior investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said the disputes had been ongoing since 2007.

He expressed concern that the recent shootings had been intended to discourage villagers from staging protests.

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