After accusing a police chief’s nephew of sexual misconduct, Jarai villagers in Ratanakkiri province were allegedly met with threats of violence, villager representatives said yesterday.
However, a local police officer said the villagers’ claims were “exaggerated” and accused them of beating a police officer.
At about 10 pm on Sunday, a man villagers only identified as “Phay,” 28, allegedly began groping three teenage girls and a teenage boy at an open-air dance party in Nhang commune’s Ta Nga village, said Sul Yam, a villager representative.
Villagers then restrained Mr Phay, who according to local authorities is the nephew of Phay Sambath, chief of the Cambodia-Vietnam Border Police Bureau in Andong Meas district, he said.
“Five minutes after his departure from the place where people were dancing, the young man returned with his uncle’s rifle and pointed it at the crowd,” Mr Yam said.
The crowd then wrestled Mr Phay to the ground and confiscating his gun, he added.
Shortly afterward, Mr Sambath arrived at the scene demanding to know who had taken his gun and allegedly proceeded to stun two men with an electric baton in the process, said deputy commune chief Rocham Din.
“When villagers refused to return the gun, the cop intimidated villagers by saying he would take other guns left at the police station to shoot people,” he said, adding that villagers had tried to restrain Mr Sambath.
Mr Yam, the villager representative, said that villagers had filed a complaint with rights group Adhoc against both the police officer and his nephew.
“Villagers just want the court to prosecute the perpetrators for such acts of harassment and intimidation,” he said, adding that villagers had not called the police during the incident because “commune police have no commitment to arrest perpetrators.”
Commune police chief Pum Poeun said yesterday that villagers had allegedly beaten and bound Mr Sambath with rope before bringing him to the house of the village chief. However, villagers denied beating Mr Sambath and said that he had been released on Monday and was now walking free.
“I already questioned the plaintiffs,” Mr Poeun said, adding that police were busy investigating the complaints made by villagers.
Mr Poeun dismissed villagers’ claims that police lacked the will to punish and prevent crimes and said that Mr Sambath was recovering in hospital from his injuries.
“Whenever we have enough evidence we will report to the upper level to take appropriate measures,” he said.
SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua yesterday said the incident was symbolic of a police force that too often does not act in the best interests of the public.
“The virus of impunity has entered every vein of Cambodian society,” Ms Sochua said. “The only way to fix it is to get a legal system to be totally independent.”
Ms Sochua said that it was an “extremely dangerous” situation that villagers had had to take the law into their own hands due to a lack of confidence in the authorities. She added that she would personally contact local NGOs in the area to find out exactly what happened.
But provincial police chief Ray Rai said the villagers were also guilty parties in the incident for having badly beaten Mr Sambath.
“The villagers’ accusation is definitely exaggerated because my cop was beaten by more than 20 villagers and is badly injured,” said Mr Rai, adding that he would send a report to the court actions taken against Mr Sambath.
Rights workers say that authorities in remote locations such as Ratanakkiri province continually act in each other’s interests and rarely bring guilty officials to justice.
“Forces in remote areas systematically collude and support each other,” said Chhay Thy, provincial investigator for rights group Adhoc.
“The police and local authorities rarely pay attention or take action when a police official has been sued by locals.”
Mr Chhay said that he would file the villagers’ complaint with the provincial court today.
(Additional reporting by Simon Marks)