mittapheap district, Sihanoukville – The families of 13 men arrested following a violent land eviction by hundreds of police and soldiers on April 20 said Thursday that the men acted in self-defense in the face of police aggression.
Sitting in tarp-covered huts 100 meters from the land they were evicted from in Mittapheap district, the families said that armed authorities stormed the village from three sides and fired volleys from AK-47s before striking an elderly villager, Hom Sorn, 77, in the head with a baton.
“They chased us off the land by shooting their guns into the ground. They hit my husband and the villagers lost control,” said Hom Sorn’s wife Nom Ngor,72.
Nom Ngor added that she had lived in Pram Muoy village since 1985 and that her son, Sorn Mea, 27, was arrested following the clash with the evicting officers.
The villagers also accused officers of robbing them of their livestock and burning their houses.
“The military and police came in like robbers,” said villager Soeun Sarun, 48. “They took our chickens, ducks and pigs and burned our houses.”
Sihanoukville Municipal Court Chief Director Svay Sisaruth said by telephone Thursday that all 13 of the arrested men—whose ages range from 16 to 56—have been charged with intentionally causing bodily harm and destruction of police property.
She referred all questions to Deputy Court Director Sok Soeun, who could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Human rights groups and the SRP issued statements calling on Sihanoukville authorities to release the 13 men and claimed that the forced evictions were illegal according to the 2001 Land Law.
“It is time for the Cambodian authorities to make a radical shift in their approach to land disputes,” Licadho Director Naly Pilorge said in a joint statement with Adhoc.
The SRP also issued a statement Thursday calling for the release of the 13 men and for the Interior Ministry to investigate the conduct of its forces during the eviction.
Sihanoukville Governor Say Hak said by telephone that the eviction was legal and that he considers the matter closed.
“Don’t stir up this case—it is finished,” Say Hak said.
“We have complete documents showing that we were right to chase those villagers out of that site,” he said.