B’bang Officials Accused of Cover-Up in Deaths

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.”


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