Hours after video emerged appearing to show security officers in Kratie opening fire on a crowd of protesting villagers today, with a rights official reporting six killed, authorities are denying any deaths resulted from the clash, even as villagers at the scene continued to insist that at least two people were shot dead.
A video from the skirmish, posted to social media, shows villagers armed with machetes and sticks arguing with authorities, with soldiers seen with rifles slung over their shoulders. The video then cuts to a long shot of the villagers as gunshots ring out in the distance. At least thirty shots can be heard, and villagers can be seen scrambling away from the area. A separate short video shows a man shot in the inner thigh being tended to by villagers.
Following the clash, a coordinator with the rights group Adhoc, relying on reports from the scene, said that six of the protesters had been shot to death.
However, Kratie Governor Sar Chamrong this evening insisted that there had been no deaths reported, and that only two people were injured – a man and woman – and that another villager had been arrested, which had sparked the conflict.
“Authorities arrested one person and then the villagers got angry. We negotiated with them but the villagers were with the homemade guns, and the villagers were very nasty. I am now making a report to [Interior Minister] Sar Kheng.”
The protest began when military police and soldiers burned down huts belonging to the villagers, angering the villagers who then proceeded to block the road. The huts were on land at the centre of a long-running dispute between the Memot Rubber Plantation Company and residents who moved into the area around the same time that the land was granted to the company.
Governor Chamrong’s account was backed up by National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith, who also maintained that there were no deaths and that two people received minor injuries.
However, Tin Pheak, a villager present at the clash, said she saw a woman and man shot dead by the authorities, and had helped move the bodies away from the road. She added that she herself was hit in the face by a police official’s gun.
“I left the body to the call people to help, and then when we came back the police already put the body in a car,” she said.
Another villager at the clash, who requested anonymity, said he saw a man fall over after being shot in the chest.
Reached later, Adhoc coordinator Be Vanny, who initially reported the deaths, said that he was simply passing on information he had received, adding that he was “wanted” by police.
Soueng Sen Karuna, land rights coordinator at Adhoc, said that he had been contacted by a Kratie Provincial Court official demanding the rights group retract its previous statement, saying the initial report was wrong and warning that “if not, you’ll have a problem”.
A doctor who answered the phone at the district referral hospital, meanwhile, declined to comment, before then saying there were no deaths. When pressed, he declined to comment further, saying it was “very difficult” to talk about the matter.
Keang Hong, the director of the provincial hospital, when asked if there were any casualties, declined to engage with the question.
See the videos posted to Facebook here:
Updates to follow.