A military police officer and a soldier have been sent to Preah Sihanouk provincial court over the beating of protesters during a stand-off at Koki village in January, a National Military Police spokesman said on Monday.
The spokesman said the bullet that seriously injured a man in the clashes was thought to be a type not used by Cambodian authorities, while the identity of the person who fired the shot was not yet known.
Four other military police officers are receiving administrative punishment for their part in the confrontation between around 200 security forces and 300 villagers over 71ha of disputed land in Prey Nop district’s Bit Traing commune.
Armed officers moved in on January 24 to implement a Supreme Court ruling that the land was owned by the nine families who had originally bought it, with villagers blocking the road by burning car tyres and throwing Molotov cocktails, while security personnel fired more than 20 rounds into the air.
A construction worker was shot and badly injured, while six protesters were arrested but released the same day.
Several days after the incident, National Military Police commander Sao Sokha set up a committee to investigate the incident.
National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy told a press conference on Monday that after nearly a month, the committee had sent Sok Thearith, a military police officer, and Chan Mao, a first lieutenant in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, to Preah Sihanouk provincial court.
They had earlier received administrative punishment, for beating the protesters.
Preah Sihanouk provincial military police deputy commander Pen Vibol received administrative punishment for negligence in leadership, while Puth Chan, a military police officer, was disciplined in the same fashion for failing to arrest a suspect after an incident.
Administrative punishments were also handed to Sek Kompheak, a military police officer and Sin Veasna, an assistant at the provincial military police office, for not following the rules on using firearms, Eng Hy said. All received letters of punishment from senior authorities.
“The [administrative] punishments were made after an investigation and forensic tests on the bullets used."
“According to the Preah Sihanouk provincial military police commander, only around 100 military policemen took part in the operation, using 10 rifles and six handguns, with the rifles not used. After examining the victim’s gunshot wound, it [is thought to be] a bullet from a [Russian-made] K59 pistol, which [is not issued to security personnel].
“We looked at six handguns and the bullet that wounded the victim, and after forensic tests, the results were negative. The bullet [that hit the victim] did not come from handguns [the military police were using],” Hy said.
He said the committee would soon conclude what type of firearm actually fired the shot that injured the construction worker, and admitted the violence came from bad management.
“I am sorry that the Military Police acted wrongly. I would like to apologise on behalf of the Military Police [for this], but we are concentrating on training throughout the country. We have told [the Military Police] to serve the people,” he said.
Lim Bun Heng, Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court spokesman, told The Post that he would contact the Military Police to clarify the issue as the case had not yet reached the court.
“I need to ask the Military Police first to check where they are regarding the [investigation]. We will follow legal procedure,” said Bun Heng, who is also the provincial deputy prosecutor.
Soeung Sen Karuna, the spokesman for human rights group Adhoc, said an independent committee should be established at the national level to provide a fair investigation and justice to the victims.
Sub-national level authorities and provincial courts found it hard to enforce the law against their own officials, he said.
If national authorities acted correctly, offenders would be punished according to legal procedure and not just be handed administrative punishments.
“We need to show action to the public to ensure national and international [trust] in the government’s actions."
“This would also serve as a message to other law enforcement officers to follow legal procedures morally and professionally, and to abide by Cambodian law,” he said.