POLICE are investigating reports that an activist from the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights received death threats from members of an army unit in Kampot’s Chumkiri district, officials said Sunday.
On Thursday, 40-year-old Prum Piseth said that soldiers had threatened to kill him after he photographed them cutting down fruit trees on disputed land.
Commune police chief Teth Bunnos said Sunday that police were looking for suspects in the case, but declined to say whether any had been identified.
Prum Piseth’s allegations came just a few days after Mam Nang, who was among a group of villagers who filed a court complaint against the army unit, accused its members of threatening to rape and kill her after she caught them cutting down her fruit trees.
Tension between soldiers and villagers has been simmering in villages across Chumkiri district’s Chres commune since 2001, with representatives of more than 300 families claiming to have lived on the land for decades, and soldiers claiming it was given to them by their former commander.
“I would like to stress that it is uncertain who is the owner of the land, whether it belongs to people or soldiers, because before soldiers arrived on the site the land was forest, and then people started clearing the land for settling and farming,” Teth Bunnos said.
Chhum Socheat, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, said Sunday he was unaware of the alleged threats but vowed to look into them and intervene if necessary.
“I haven’t yet been informed about such encroachment and violation, but if it is true, they really made a big mistake and also went against Prime
Minister Hun Sen’s speech, which told military officials to refrain from illegal land-grabbing during a conference at the Ministry of Defence,” he said, referring to remarks made late last month.
Prum Piseth said that although no encroachment or threats have been reported since Thursday, he remains afraid for his life because the soldiers had threatened to “kill me next time after failing to kill me this time”.
None of the four soldiers named by Prum Piseth could be reached for comment, nor could their commander.