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Wounded villagers fear arrest

Wounded villagers fear arrest

THREE men shot by police on Sunday in connection with an ongoing land dispute in Kampong Thom province have fled the hospital where they were seeking treatment, citing fears they will be arrested.

Luon Bunthy, who brought the three men to Santuk district hospital after the shootings on Sunday afternoon, said 40 other villagers who joined them in Sunday’s attempt enter land which was granted to a Vietnamese rubber company last year had fled their homes.

“We heard that the district authorities would try to find and arrest those of us who tried to enter our old farmland and accuse us of persuading villagers to rally against the authorities,” he said.

The altercation occurred after the 40 villagers approached the 8,100-hectare concession in Kraya commune, from which they were evicted in December. In 2007, the government granted the concession, home to about 1,700 families who began settling there in 2004, to the Vietnam-based Tin Bien rubber company.

More than 600 families have been relocated to a site 7 kilometres away, though some residents say authorities have failed to honour a promise to provide each family with a hectare of farmland.

During Sunday’s altercation, 37-year-old Tuot Chanka and his younger brother, 35-year-old Tuot Veasna, sustained gunshot wounds in their legs, and 59-year-old Chhum Chhorn was shot in the stomach.

All three sought treatment in Kampong Cham provincial hospital after a short stay in Santuk district hospital.

Tuot Chanka said Tuesday that he had fled Kampong Cham provincial hospital despite the fact that the swelling in his thigh had not gone down.

“Today I will move from this hospital to another place for my safety even though my thigh still hurts. I am not sure where I will go,” he said.

Ouch Leng, land programme officer for the rights group Adhoc, said the 40 villagers had no choice but to flee because they had been threatened.

Santuk district governor Pich Sophea said the authorities would only arrest former Kraya residents – or those posing as former Kraya residents – if they approached the concession again.

“We will arrest them if we see them in that area, because many of them are not Kraya villagers. They are from outside and want to persuade new villagers who received land [at the relocation site] to take over company land,” he said.

Santuk district police chief Ek Mat Muoly could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Pich Sophea said villagers at the relocation site, Thmor Samleang, would receive farmland, adding that the location had not yet been identified.

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