Battambang Land Dispute Turns Violent

Two villagers and a police officer were injured on Tuesday morning when a protest over a land concession for disabled war veterans in Battambang province turned violent, according to police and a local official.

Bavel district deputy police chief Dy Sareth said at least 50 villagers armed with sticks, knives and axes confronted roughly 30 police in Ampil Pram Doeum commune while escorting provincial land officers who had come to measure out land for the veterans.

He said the police fired a few warning shots into the air, after which the angry villagers took two rifles and a pistol off the officers and attacked them, injuring one of the officers. He added that two villagers were also injured, not by police, but by a handful of locals who had taken the side of the police.

According to Mr Sareth, one of the villagers was struck in the head with an axe and was still being cared for at the district hospital. He said the other villager and officer were admitted and released.

Mr Sareth said the melee came to an end without any arrests after the land officers stopped their measurements of the contested area. But he said his office was investigating the incident and suspect a small group of larger landowners threatened by the redistribution of land had incited the villagers.

Villagers who took part in the protest could not be reached for comment yesterday. But according to Heng Sayhong, a local monitor for human rights group Licadho who spoke with some of the protesters afterward, the police and land officials were also accompanied by a few bulldozers that had started clearing some of the villagers’ rice fields.

Mr Sayhong said he had not gathered enough information to comment on the violence, however, and that his own investigation of the confrontation was still underway.

District Governor Tim Dareth, who said he was at the protest, blamed the violence on the villagers for preventing the land officers from carrying out their measurement work.

“I asked them to stand and talk to each other, but they did not listen,” he said.

According to Mr Dareth, some 600 families live on the 3,600-hectare concession and that all but 15 had agreed to a plan to incorporate the families of 250 disabled war veterans’ families into the area.

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