Workers at a slaughterhouse in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district filed a complaint with human rights groups on Thursday, claiming they were beaten and detained by drunken district security guards during the Pchum Ben holiday last week.
Dy Van, 18, alleged that the guards—who have for months been at odds with locals who are resisting a massive development project on the peninsula—set upon him on the afternoon of September 24, when he attempted to walk onto private land to pick grass to feed his cattle at the abattoir.
The 387-hectare wetland was sold in 2011 by City Hall to the Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation (OCIC), which is in the process of converting the area into a $3-billion “city of the future.”
Mr. Van said he walks past a hut occupied by the district security guards most days to pick grass, but has never been stopped before.
“But on [September] 24, they were so drunk, and when I argued with them for a long time, one man slapped my face,” Mr. Van said Thursday. When he began sprinting back toward his home, the guards gave chase.
“They picked up big sticks and beat me across the back as I ran.”
Mr. Van and other witnesses said backup security personnel soon arrived and forced him and his cousin, Ham Him, 21—who had heard the argument and come to Mr. Van’s aid—into a corner in the abattoir.
As the guards attempted to drag Mr. Van into one of their trucks, his pregnant wife, Sary Vas, 18, tried to stop them but was pushed to the ground, he said. The guards then detained Mr. Him and Ran Pheak, 26, another local who joined the fray.
Mr. Him said the pair was taken at about 1 p.m. to the district office, which is inside a compound guarded by OCIC security, where they were held until about 11 p.m.
“The guards came one at a time and slapped me and cut my hair unevenly to make me look bad,” he said.
“They said that they would beat me until I told the truth [about the day’s events] but the only truth that they wanted is a lie.”
Contacted Thursday, Chroy Changva district governor Khlaing Huot gave a different account of the violence last week. He said it was the abattoir workers who attacked the security guards, and that military police had to be called in to make arrests.
Mr. Huot, whose office is located inside the residential compound that OCIC built to lure villagers from the development land, said three or four men assaulted the guards unprovoked.
“These young gangsters, they see something they don’t like and they want to fight,” he said. “They used machetes and big sticks to attack.”
Mr. Huot said his guards managed to escape injury at the hands of the machete-wielding youth, and that nearby colleagues had radioed for help—prompting the intervention by the military police.
“We were only able to arrest two of them, and they were detained for three or four hours,” he said. “We released them after they signed a letter promising that they would not do it again.”
Asked why district security guards were protecting OCIC’s private property, Mr. Huot said: “They are guarding the place as ordered by the municipality.”
The district governor then rebuked suggestions that his guards had been drunk.
“Do not try to accuse my lower officials, my officials have good discipline,” he said.
“I never allow my security guards to drink on festival days because I respect Buddhism. That was Pchum Ben, they have to work, not drink.”