Human rights groups have accused Battambang court officials and government officials of covering up for police, military police and RCAF soldiers involved in the shooting deaths of five villagers during a bloody eviction in Poipet in March.
Earlier this month, charges against 128 police officers and soldiers were dropped after Nil Non, the Battambang Provincial Court judge investigating the shootings, wrote in his decision that there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue charges.
In a statement released Wednesday, the 18 local rights groups that comprise the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee condemned the decision and called for further investigation.
“The [committee] is worried about authorities not being held responsible and the court’s lack of independence which resulted in the crime being covered up by the related authorities,” the group said.
“This crime is…another bad example for the present Cambodian society,” the group added.
On March 21, five villagers were shot dead during the eviction operation by hundreds of police, military police and soldiers. Two others were injured and one military police officer was stabbed during the confrontation.
The Sam Rainsy Party also released a statement, saying the decision to drop criminal charges will serve as “encouragement for the armed forces to use violence more on innocent people.”
Nil Non, who also cleared charges against 36 villagers charged with physically assaulting security forces during the eviction, refused to comment Wednesday.
Banteay Meanchey Provincial Governor Heng Chantha denied the court’s decision was political.
“He had the independent power of judge and court,” the governor said.
Heng Chantha said Nil Non met with provincial officials on Tuesday to explain his decision, but the governor said he did not attend. He referred questions about the event to Deputy Provincial Governor Sok Sareth.
Sok Sareth declined to comment on the criticism of the court decision.
Kbal Spean village representative Chey Sophat said he had received a letter from Heng Chantha dated Aug 11, that stated that a committee had been established to find a way to resettle the villagers who remain on the disputed land.
“The people will not agree to go,” Chey Sophat said. “We would rather die here.”