Human rights watchdog lashes out at Oddar Meanchey authorities as more than 20 villagers remain on the run, fearing arrest on incitement charges.
I’m very concerned about my personal safety. I dare not go anywhere at all.
RIGHTS groups have slammed the violent forced eviction of villagers in Oddar Meanchey province last week following a long-running land dispute, describing the actions as a “serious violation” of human rights.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) – a coalition of 21 local NGOs – criticised the action, which saw authorities raze the homes of 214 villagers in Kaun Kriel commune’s Bos village.
“CHRAC wishes to propose to provincial authorities and all classes of competent authorities to provide intervention for a swift halt of arrests of and threats against people, and to provide land for those victimised,” the statement said.
On October 9, armed provincial authorities crushed and set fire to houses in Kaun Kriel commune’s Bos village to clear the area for development by Angkor Sugar Company, which has been granted a 10,000-hectare economic land concession in the area.
One villager, who is now hiding out in Phnom Penh, said Tuesday that Banteay Meanchey provincial authorities had threatened to arrest all the men in Bos village on incitement charges, forcing them to flee into the forest or to the capital to escape detention.
“Some are hiding in the forest with nothing to eat, and they will be arrested when they show up,” the villager said. “They are now in a very miserable situation.”
He said that there were fears authorities would also arrest any women who dared to stand up against the eviction, but that 16-year-old villager Mao Phleung, who was detained on Monday for questioning, had already been released by police.
Huoy Chhuoy, the former Bos village chief, said the authorities knew the approximate whereabouts of 28 villagers who had fled and planned to hunt for them in Phnom Penh. “I’m very concerned about my personal safety. I dare not go anywhere at all. I would like to call for the government and [civil society groups] to help protect us and especially help bring food to our hiding places, too,” he said.
Authorities, however, denied they were seeking the arrests of the villagers. Ty Sovintal, prosecutor of the Siem Reap provincial court, who is in charge of the land dispute case at Bos village, said the court had only issued warrants for the arrest of three villagers on charges, filed by the provincial Forestry Administration, of inciting villagers and “causing turbulence” against the government’s development policy.
Vath Paranin, Banteay Meanchey provincial secretary general, said the authorities never planned to arrest the other villagers.
“It was just a rumour,” he said. “In fact, we are trying to call all the escaped villagers to return home.”