Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said on Tuesday that the recent violent crackdowns in Kratie and Preah Sihanouk provinces on people locked in land disputes were illegally implemented and procedurally wrong as the military was used.
He instructed all authorities nationwide not to use violence in such situations. “In solving land disputes, we need to remember that we are legal and administrative officials. It is right to deploy the police and military police to implement the law, but it is wrong to deploy armed military forces."
“Military forces should not be deployed in the implementation of court rulings. Such cases have happened in Kratie and Preah Sihanouk provinces. It means the provincial administrations there do not understand the law, and other provinces should not deploy military forces in this way,” Sar Kheng said.
Speaking at a Ministry of Interior convention outlining the results of 2018 and goals for this year, he stressed that authorities should have a better strategy to solve such conflicts peacefully.
“The enforcers of the law are the police, the Military Police and prosecutors. I have talked about this before, but I must talk about it again because if we are wrong [when implementing the ruling of the courts] and continue to be so, it makes things worse."
“The law permits us to stop and think of solutions, but we have not done so. We have violently implemented [the law],” he said.
After the Preah Sihanouk clashes, the National Military Police created a committee to investigate the incident, claiming some police officials are being administratively punished for their roles in the violence.
Ministry of National Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat told The Post on Tuesday that the military never directly and solely implements the law, with its participation requested by local authorities.
“I do not support the participation of the military [in such cases] because it is a matter for the authorities, as Sar Kheng said.“Many conflicts are caused by land disputes and authorities mostly requested the assistance of the military. But after the recent incidents, we should let local authorities take care of such cases,” he said.
In the case of the military using violence on a protester during the clashes at Preah Sihanouk province’s Koki village on January 24, Socheat said no action had yet been taken because the ministry had not received a complaint.
According to a report on the incident by Preah Sihanouk Governor Yun Min, 20 provincial-district administration officials, 100 military policemen, 100 military personnel, 100 police force personnel and relevant department officials moved into the disputed area to implement a Supreme Court verdict.
Shots fired in the air
“Some authorities shot in the air [around 20 rounds] as a warning. These were not intended to cause harm, [but they] were not ordered to do so."
“The authorities are searching for the person who injured the man with live fire because they suspect it might be a third party,” the report states.
In Kratie province on March 8 last year, joint security forces, most of them soldiers, fired rounds in the air during clashes with around 200 people as they sought to implement a court verdict in a land dispute. Seven members of the authorities and two protesters were injured. Seven arrests were made.
Soeung Sen Karuna, the spokesman for rights NGO Adhoc, said it was correct to take action on the illegal use of force. He said he supported Sar Kheng’s call on the deployment of the military in disputes as they were not trained in dealing with protests.
“Sar Kheng’s idea is correct and hopefully this will be addressed in the future. The use of trained forces to deal with in such situations is the best option to prevent violence,” he said.