Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Wide abuses alleged in "lawless" Kompong Cham

Wide abuses alleged in "lawless" Kompong Cham

Wide abuses alleged in "lawless" Kompong Cham

K OMPONG CHAM'S festering land dispute has become increasingly more ugly and

lawless, with allegations of unlawful arrests, torture and at least one

uninvestigated death.

High level provincial authorities - both Funcinpec

and CPP - have been criticized not only for failing to investigate complaints,

but for actively siding with marauding militia against the civilian population,

according to villagers interviewed by the Post.

Aggrieved farmers from

Svay Khleang commune, Kroch Chhmar district were granted an audience in Phnom

Penh on May 8 by King Norodom Sihanouk.

Two of the group, Yann Saing, 50,

and Tuy Song, 51, claim they were tortured into confessing to trumped-up

charges, and that they cannot return home for fear of being killed before their

court trial.

The farmers also complained about the "anarchy" in the

province to Parliament's human rights committee.

Saing, told the Post

that on April 30 a group of the commune's militiamen stopped farmers who were

plowing the soil. They confiscated farming equipment and hand-cuffed the

farmer's hands behind their backs.

"They did not give me any reason for

the arrest. They pointed their guns at me and kicked me," Saing

said.

Seeing the column of 12 farmers being escorted by militiamen

passing his house, Song used his camera to take pictures that he thought would

be evidence of the brutality of the militiamen.

He was spotted and said

one militiamen smashed his camera against a coconut tree. They tied his hands

behind his back, kicked him and took him to the commune office where,

blindfolded, he was charged with attempting to harm a militiaman.

"They

accused me of trying to snatch a rifle from a militiaman in order to kill him.

They just made everything up and they pressed me to admit what I hadn't done,"

Song said.

"They forced me to finger-print a report they wrote," he

added.

He was later shackled and locked in a room in which there were

four B-40 grenades. He said a militiaman picked up one B-40 grenade and asked

him: "Do you want to eat it?"

In a separate room Saing, also with his

eyes bound, was pressured to confess that he had seen Song trying to snatch a

rifle from a militiaman.

"They would hit me in the forehead and tighten

up the cloth over my eyes. It hurt very much," Saing said. He identified his

torturer as a militiaman named Ry.

"I asked [Ry] if there is any law

allowing you to beat me, he said no, but I can beat anyone anytime I wish,'" he

said.

Fearing for his life and unable to bear the pain, Saing said he

finally signed a false testimony against Song. Both men were detained for eight

days before the Ministry of Justice intervened to have them released pending

their court trial.

"The militiamen threatened 12 people with weapons,

kicked them and tied them up without showing any warrant," said Sam Kanitha,

member of the National Assembly's human rights and complaints committee.

 

Kompong Cham 'land-grab'

"It was a gross violation of human

rights by the authority," she added.

She said provincial prosecutor Tit

Sethy insisted that Song and Saing face charges for trying to snatch a gun from

a militiaman.

The pair said had they remained at home they would have

been "purged" before the trial by local militiamen acting on behalf of their

commune chief. They have taken shelter in a friend's house in Phnom Penh and

said their safe return to stand trial would be made in a company of their

neighbors from nearby villages.

"We cannot allow these two men to go

back home now for fear that they will be eliminated before the court starts,"

said Sam Kanitha.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Cambodian

defender close to the issue, said the situation involving land disputes in the

province was 'anarchical' with serious cases of abuses.

The disputes

involved confrontation between people subscribing to different political wings,

especially Funcinpec and CPP. But the culprits have not been apprehended, he

said.

"Now, no-one dares to work on any cases. They drop them or transfer

them to somebody else," the defender said of lawyers working in Kompong

Cham.

"In Kompong Cham, we were advised by kind people to be cautious

about our own security. We want to be independent and helpful, but we need

security first," he added.

At a land dispute hearing held between the

National Assembly's human rights and complaints commission and the Ministry of

Interior last month, a group of villagers from Kompong Cham alleged that a

series of similar abuses has been carried out by the local authority.

In

Lvea Leu commune, Chamkar Leu district, they complained that they are now denied

access to the land they had worked on since 1979. Commune authorities were

keeping the land as their own, they said.

"I'd like to tell you that

their trick was to keep the land for themselves. They themselves did not respect

the law ... which prohibits them from keeping the land," Nop Narin from Lvea Leu

commune angrily told the hearing which was attended by Co-Ministers of Interior

Sar Kheng and You Hokry and senior officials from Kompong Cham.

Narin

said the five-year old dispute had not been resolved by the provincial

authorities who were biased in favor of commune and district

chiefs.

Narin said he had been "hunted" by commune militiamen who saw him

as spearheading complaints about "land-grabbing" within his village. He said

that in 1993 his brother Chin Vuthea was dragged from his house and shot dead by

local militiamen who later reported to the provincial authority that Vuthea had

stolen a bicycle.

Narin said his house had been fired upon several times

by the militia.

For the last two years, he himself has been taking refuge

in Phnom Penh after losing his school teacher job while on the run to escape the

"man-hunt."

"This land dispute is so contentious. If it cannot be settled

now, it will spill over and politicians will exploit this stage for their

campaign to gain votes for the next term of legislature. But the consequences

will be the same as now," Kem Sokha, chairman of the complaints and human rights

commission, told the Post after the hearing.

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