Ratanakkiri province authorities said Monday they were continuing their search for a fugitive who evaded arrest in Banlung town during a violent confrontation Friday between police and ethnic minority villagers involved in a land dispute.
Twenty armed police arrested village representative Yang Thang, but they were prevented from arresting fellow villager Sun Vev during a clash at the courthouse with as many as 40 villagers.
A provincial military commander said Monday that 10 soldiers are now under the command of DM Group, the private company villagers accuse of stealing their farmland, to protect the 200 hectares of disputed land it is claiming for a rubber plantation.
A human rights worker said local villagers claimed that the DM company Sunday burned down shelters used by locals when tending to their soy crops.
A local government official said the villagers had burned their own tents in an effort to discredit the company.
“As soldiers, we have an obligation to provide security for our people, and the DM Group leaders are also human beings,” Mong Khem, commander of the RCAF provincial sub-region, said by way of explanation for the military deployment in support of a private firm.
Asked why RCAF was protecting disputed property in favor of only one party, Mong Khem said: “The company are also villagers.”
Locals believe that the DM Group is linked to the top-most echelons of the government.
The villagers in 2005 sued DM Group, accusing the company of stealing their land in Lumphat district’s Patang commune. However, the company has countersued, accusing the villagers of trespassing, property destruction and threatening its workers.
Deputy prosecutor Ros Saram said Yang Thang is now being held in pre-trial detention and that police were continuing their search for Sun Vev.
However, he declined to say what specific crime either man was suspected of committing.