Hundreds of villagers in Poipet have returned to a disputed six-hectare plot of land from which they were forcibly removed last month during a bloody eviction that left five dead, officials said Monday.
The villagers moved back to the land in Kbal Spean village on Sunday, said village representative Chey Sophat, a week after a representative from Golden Crown Casino ordered the families to leave an alternative plot of land on which they had been camped since the March 21 eviction.
“The villagers returned to the land [Sunday] already because there is no solution and the casino is blaming us for polluting their water,” Chey Sophat said. “We are worried trouble will happen again, but we have no choice.”
The casino official claimed the villagers were polluting water in a nearby canal that the casino said it had built.
Poipet commune Chief Hay Nam Heng said Monday that he was worried the move could re-ignite conflict with local authorities.
“I am worried that troubles will occur again because the case has not been solved yet.”
“Nobody told them to come back but the casino told them to go, so the villagers have nowhere to go except that land. They say it’s their land,” he added.
Banteay Meanchey Governor Heng Chantha said the villagers are breaking the law by moving back onto the disputed land.
“They don’t obey the law, that’s why there were deaths,” he said Monday.
“It is a bad example for other places that have similar cases; people will just come back like this, then the country will be lawless.”
Heng Chantha said Golden Crown had agreed to delay any eviction from the casino’s land until a solution had been reached.
“We are waiting for the Samdech Prime Minister to solve it,” he said.
Golden Crown representatives could not be reached for comment Monday.
Kek Galabru, president of Licadho, said the villagers are in desperate need of a place to live and added that the government has been slow in finding a resolution.
“I think [the villagers] cannot wait, they need a place to stay,” she said.
Also on Monday the prosecutor responsible for the case reported that more than 100 police and military police officers have been charged in relation to the killing of the five villagers in Kbal Spean.
“We sent them to the investigating judge already,” Battambang Provincial Court Chief Prosecutor Yam Yet said. “We don’t know which ones shot so we charged them all.”
Yam Yet did not say exactly how many had been charged or if they are being detained, while the officer’s superiors knew nothing of the new charges.
“I don’t know about this,” Banteay Meanchey Military Police Chief Rath Srieng said Monday. “I know only that I have sent only one officer to be charged,” he added.
O’Chrou district police Chief Nuth Ly was also unaware of reported charges against his officers.
Kek Galabru said it was strange that the officers’ superiors were not notified of the charges and also questioned whether the charges have really been lain.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, also said it was doubtful the officers had actually been charged, saying they were likely questioned and that the court officials “don’t understand the word ‘charge.’”
“They see it on American television and think it applies to everything,” he said.