Villagers in Preah Sihanouk province filed complaints with police and a rights group yesterday accusing guards hired by a Chinese company of brutally beating four people, including a 68-year-old woman, who tried to stop the firm’s bulldozers from clearing farmland, police and villagers said yesterday.
Four villagers filed separate complaints with Prey Nop district police and local rights group Licadho over Monday’s incident, which happened when the Yi Chea company tried to build a road to access a 3,300-hectare, 99-year land concession in Ream commune, according to Nap Somaly, provincial investigator for Licadho.
“It was so violent that strong guards beat up an old woman who just wants a resolution before having her land cleared,” Ms Somaly said yesterday.
Chung Heang, 68, was pummeled by six guards when she tried to stop bulldozers from clearing her land, Ms Somaly said, adding that Ms Heang fell into a canal during the beating. Three young men, including Ms Heang’s grandson, ran to help her and were attacked by other guards as 30 soldiers from RCAF’s Brigade 31 watched and did nothing, according to Ms Somaly.
Lin Sarin, the Ream commune chief, confirmed yesterday that the four villagers have filed two separate complaints, saying that the company has failed to resolve the claims of all the people whose land will be affected by the land concession to the Yi Chea company, which is in Ream National Park.
“Neither local authorities nor local villagers oppose the government development project in granting a land concession for a private firm to develop,” he said. “Villagers are only seeking a fair resolution for losing land.”
The dispute began in early 2009, according to Mr Sarin, when the Yi Chea company started clearing the 3,300-hectare piece of land to develop an eco-tourism resort. The concession overlaps with the land of 116 families from the Ream and Thma Thom villages, he said.
Neang Neng, the Prey Nop district police chief, confirmed that a complaint had been filed with his district, but declined to elaborate, saying the matter was under investigation.
“I will summon the guards who allegedly beat [the villagers] for questioning tomorrow,” he said.
Licadho released a statement yesterday appealing to the Ministry of Defense to conduct a “credible investigation and punish” the RCAF soldiers who stood by during the alleged beating, and to “issue an order prohibiting RCAF forces from any involvement in evictions and land-grabbing.”
The local rights group also appealed to the government to review its concessions within the Ream National Park.
Chhum Socheat, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, said he was unaware of the allegations when reached yesterday and thus couldn’t comment on whether there would be any investigation.
(Additional reporting by Clancy McGilligan)