Two police officers, a military police officer and a civilian have been charged in relation to the killing of five people during last week’s bloody eviction in Poipet commune, while arrest warrants have been issued for eight evicted villagers for “land grabbing,” court officials said Monday.
Two O’Chrou district police officers, Tan Phirum and Boan Sambin, and civilian Pov Kly were charged Friday with intentional killing, Banteay Meanchey Provincial court Investigating judge Ieng Klin said. Provincial military police officer Nim Phan was charged Monday with causing injuries, Ieng Klin said.
Ieng Klin said he did not know much about Pov Kly’s involvement as a civilian except that he was from Poipet commune and was friends with the two arrested district police officers.
“I don’t know why he is involved,” he said. “I need to investigate.”
Banteay Meanchey Governor Heng Chantha said Pov Kly was dressed in a police uniform on the day the five villagers were killed, though he was not an officer with either the district or provincial forces.
“He wore the uniform,” Heng Chantha said but refused to comment further on the charges, saying he had not received a report from the chair of the committee, deputy provincial Governor Sok Sareth.
Sok Sareth said he was too busy to comment.
O’Chrou district police Chief Nuth Ly declined comment while Rath Srieng, chief of the province’s military police, welcomed the charge against his officer.
“According to the investigation by the committee and I, [Nim Phan] was involved,” he said.
Banteay Meanchey Chief Prosecutor Nhuong Thol said the Ministry of Justice was working to find a location for any future trial and expected it to be held outside the province for reasons of independence.
The chief prosecutor also defended his decision that originally sent more than 120 heavily armed police and military police officers to participate in the Kbal Spean village eviction. And he defended the police and military police officers’ actions on the day of the five killings.
According to a government report obtained Monday, the court had requested that 230 provincial police and military police officers execute the eviction, but 124 officers armed with AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles actually took part.
“I ordered the sending of this size of a force because it was to crack down on the villagers who wanted to fight back,” Nhuong Thol said Monday.
“In the two previous evictions, villagers had knives and axes. We just wanted to crack down on villagers who would attack us,” he said.
Though Nhuong Thol said he wanted to crack down on villagers, he said he did not plan for anyone to be killed and that police should have withdrawn at the first signs of violence.
But he added: “To my understanding, it was the right of the individuals to defend themselves because there were challenges from the villagers…. The villagers attacked our forces.”
Nhuong Thol was not at the village on March 21. Instead, a court clerk read out the Appeal’s Court decision that day at the site of the eviction, granting the land to village Chief Tin On.
The chief prosecutor also said police were planning to arrest eight Kbal Spean villagers for moving back onto the land after they were evicted in April 2002.
“According to the law, eight village representatives will be arrested for grabbing the land,” he said. “The court has already issued a warrant for them.”
If convicted, each villager could face between six months and three years in prison, Nhuong Thol said.
Village representative Chey Sophat said villagers fear they will be arrested again and hoped Prime Minister Hun Sen would help them. More than 20 villagers were arrested during the eviction, with all but one released later that day. The last villager was released Friday.
“We are worried that the court has not dropped the charges against us,” he said. “We are still waiting for the resolution from Prime Minister Hun Sen.”
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay, who visited the village last week, said the charges are an attempt to shift blame away from those who led the forces involved.
He also condemned plans to arrest more villagers, saying it shows the government learned nothing from last week’s disaster.
“They have suffered enough,” he said. “By arresting the people they seem to move back and not realize what has happened.”
The four charges should be only the beginning, said Licadho President Kek Galabru.
“We would like to know who gave the order to shoot,” she said.