choam ksan district, Preah Vihear province – The Preah Vihear Provincial Court on Monday charged 18 villagers with land grabbing following last week’s violent eviction of hundreds of families from a protected forest during which police shot two people dead.
Choek Reuy, assistant to the Preah Vihear Provincial Court’s administration office, said that the 18 men were charged with illegally grabbing 60 hectares of state land and sent to Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh on Monday.
Choek Reuy declined to comment on why the men were sent to prison in Phnom Penh and referred further questions to Provincial Court Director Uk Van Em, who referred questions back to Choek Reuy. Prey Sar prison Director Mong Kim Heng confirmed Tuesday that 13 of the villagers were sent to his prison, while another was taken to hospital.
Mong Kim Heng said that Preah Vihear Deputy Governor Meas Savoeun, who was arrested on Nov 14, was also charged with land grabbing by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and sent to Prey Sar last week.
Choek Reuy and Mong Kim Heng said they did not know the whereabouts of the remaining four charged villagers.
On Nov 15, authorities forcefully evicted 317 families from Occheuteal protected forest, which is located around 11 km from the base of the mountain where the Preah Vihear temple is located.
On Monday, all that remained of the villagers’ wooden shack homes was burnt timber along a 3-km stretch of red earth road.
Eight km south of the eviction site at Kantuot commune’s health clinic in Sra Em village, staffer Tim Snit said that six injured villagers were brought to his clinic by police two hours after the violent clash.
Suy Aun, 22, Yon Yong, 29, Rim Roeuy, 25 and Bao Leng had all been shot in their legs, while Chhoeun Chheng, 22, was shot in his shoulder and Chhoeum Then, 21, had been severely beaten, Tim Snit said. Thoeun Chem, 25, the woman who was shot in the chest by police while she protested the arrest of her husband Mann Chanthorn, died in the clinic at around 12 pm, he said.
“I pitied her because she had an 8-month old baby,” Tim Snit said, adding that police took the men away after their wounds were treated and ordered Thoeun Chem’s relatives to take her body to a nearby pagoda and bury her.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said Tuesday that even though the villagers were encroaching on state land, the level of violence used against them was “unacceptable.”