Charges Dropped in Lethal Poipet Eviction Case In Weary Aceh

Charges against RCAF soldiers, police and military police officers over the killing of five villagers during a bloody eviction operation in Poipet in March have been drop­ped, according to court documents obtained Monday and a senior court official.

Battambang Provincial Court Investigating Judge Nil Non also dropped charges against 36 villagers involved in the incident, in­cluding the five dead men, for lack of evidence.

“There was really intentional kil­ling of five villagers, three in­juries with weapons and four people in­jured by hard materials,” Nil Non wrote in his Aug 4 report on the kil­lings in Poipet.

“But these above acts were perpetrated by individuals who could not be clearly identified,” the investigating judge wrote.

A senior Battambang court official, who spoke on condition of an­onymity, confirmed the contents of the report on Monday.

On March 21, police, military police and RCAF soldiers surrounded Kbal Spean village in Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet commune and began the forcible eviction of 218 families.

During the operation, villagers armed themselves with knives, farm implements and other crude weapons to resist the eviction. Po­lice opened fire, killing five villagers and leaving two injured. One military police officer was reportedly stabbed during the confrontation.

Amid a human rights outcry, the case was transferred to Bat­tambang provincial court, and 128 police, military police and soldiers who took part in the bloody operation were eventually charged with intentional killing, according to the investigating judge’s documents. The 36 villagers were charged with physical assault.

Three officers and a civilian were detained during the investigation—O’Chrou district police officers Tan Phirum and Boan Sam­bin, military police officer Nim Phan and a man named Pov Kly. Pov Kly was initially named a civilian, but court documents later listed him as a commune militiaman.

According to the verdict, a total of 40 military police, 49 police and 39 RCAF soldiers were charged and later cleared of the killings.

When asked for comment Mon­day, Nil Non hung up the phone. Battambang military police chief Rath Srieng refused to comment.

Kbal Spean village representative Chey Sophat, who was one of the villagers charged with physical as­sault, welcomed Nil Non’s decision to drop the charges against the villagers, who have since moved back onto the disputed land.

However, he slammed the judge’s decision to clear all the po­lice, military and military police officers.

“This work is surely injustice but we don’t know what to do,” he said.

Nuon Sochea, a lawyer from rights group Adhoc who was representing some of the villagers, said Nil Non’s decision would be appealed.

“We will appeal,” she said. “We would not keep this case like this. It is an injustice that the ones who killed the villagers can live freely. This is a bad model for other land dispute cases in the country.”

Banteay Meanchey Governor Heng Chantha said he had heard the verdict and court officials would be meeting with him today to explain their reasoning.

Deputy Governor Sok Sareth said he does not expect the court to launch any further investigations.

“Police, military police and soldiers, the court has invited them for questioning already,” he said.

Sok Sareth also said that land located about 4 or 5 km from Kbal Spean has been allocated for the villagers, but they are still refusing to move.



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