K OMPONG CHAM'S festering land dispute has become increasingly more ugly and
lawless, with allegations of unlawful arrests, torture and at least one
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
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
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.
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,"
"They forced me to finger-print a report they wrote," he
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
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
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.
involved confrontation between people subscribing to different political wings,
especially Funcinpec and CPP. But the culprits have not been apprehended, he
"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
"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.
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.
said the five-year old dispute had not been resolved by the provincial
authorities who were biased in favor of commune and district
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
"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.