Villagers continued to leave disputed land granted to the Memot Rubber Plantation in Kratie province after authorities burned down their houses today, even as rights groups and the United Nations investigated claims that villagers were killed when security personnel fired on protesters on Thursday.
Security personnel opened fire on villagers engaged in a long-standing dispute with the plantation, and conflicting accounts of the number of casualties emerged almost immediately.
An Adhoc official in the province, relying on information from villagers, initially reported six were killed, with government officials and pro-government media insisting that there were no fatalities. Villagers, meanwhile, maintained that they had witnessed at least two dead, while doctors at local hospitals declined to say how many patients they had received.
As of this evening, some of that uncertainty remained, even as the forced evictions that sparked the initial protest continued.
Villagers from inside the plantation could be seen scrambling with whatever possessions they could gather from houses set on fire by security forces.
Sim Horn, a fleeing villager, said the forces not only burned her house, where she has lived for three years, but also dispersed all her animals.
“Now I have no home. Now I have to stay here,” referring to a location on the outskirts of the plantation. “They chased us away and told us not to come back.”
Horn was with around 30 other villagers holding bedding, kitchen utensils and pet dogs in their arms as they left the plantation.
“Now they are burning our house. They used the excavator to flatten the house and then poured gasoline to burn it,” Chheng San said.
“They said we if we don’t leave they will kill us,” she said, adding that her sister Chheng Sath was one of the 10 people arrested by police after Thursday’s clash.
Provincial Governor Sar Chamrong could not be reached to confirm the evictions.
Snuol District Governor Kong Kemny maintained the authorities were simply continuing to implement the law.
“It is not really an actual village or an actual home. It is just a hut that they use for farming," he said.
Reporters today were denied access to the site of Thursday’s clash, but spoke to around 30 people about the claims of deaths. Most said that they had not seen any actual deaths, but said that people were beaten and two others – a man and a woman – were injured by gunfire.
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith on Thursday acknowledged that two people were injured with gunshot wounds.
The Post confirmed that the woman, who was shot in the buttocks, was at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital, and the man, shot in his inner thigh, was at a hospital in Kratie’s Snuol district.
Licadho’s Am Sam Ath said yesterday that the situation was still serious in Kratie and that his investigation team had also not been allowed to visit the protest site.
“We have not yet found any cases of deaths. We have received information about two people injured,” said the right groups’ monitoring coordinator.
While the National Police said 10 individuals were arrested after the clash, Licadho said villagers had told of only eight arrests.
“Some villagers also said their relative was missing but we don’t know if they were arrested or not,” Licadho’s Sam Ath said.
Veal Bai village resident Chab Kim said he had been told his son, Kim Nai, had been among those arrested on Thursday, though he wasn't certain.
“My wife went to check with the commune police office and they said my son was sent to the provincial capital,” he said.
“I told him not to go [to the protest] but he does not listen,” he said.
Additional reporting by Channyda Chhay and Erin Handley