Gov’t Blasted By UN Over Poipet Killings

o’chrou district, Banteay Mean­chey province – The government and courts have grossly violated the rights of 218 families in Poipet who were forced from their homes during a bloody eviction that saw police and soldiers shoot dead five villagers in March, a UN envoy said Thursday.

In addition, Miloon Kothari, special rapporteur on housing rights and adequate housing to the UN Commission on Human Rights, said the government must launch an independent investigation into the violent events at Kbal Spean village—a case he described as “very suspicious.”

“There has been almost no re­sponse from the government in find­ing those responsible and re­sponding to [the villagers’] needs,” Kothari said after meeting with pro­vincial officials and the villag­ers.

“When you come from outside and look at the case, it almost ap­pears nobody died because there’s been no attempt to find those re­spon­sible,” he said. “This is crying out for an independent in­vest­i­ga­tion.”

More than 100 heavily armed police, military police and RCAF soldiers stormed Kbal Spean village on March 21 to enforce a court-ordered eviction.

When villagers armed themselves with crude weapons and farm implements to resist the eviction operation, the security forces opened fire.

The government launched an in­vestigation into the killings and the Battambang Provincial Court charged 128 officers and soldiers involved in the eviction.

Thirty-six villagers, including the five people slain by police and soldiers, were charged with physical assault. A military police officer was injured during the eviction, re­portedly stabbed with a knife.

But earlier this month, Nil Non, the Battambang court judge investigating the case, ordered all charges dropped against the po­lice, military police and soldiers for lack of evidence.

Nil Non refused to speak with reporters outside his office Wed­nesday.

Rights groups have called the investigation a cover-up.

“This confirms the judiciary is not independent,” Kothari said Thursday. He said the lack of public participation and even transparency around the contested plot of land, coupled with the court order to drop all charges, was du­bious.

“There are many, many unanswered questions in this case,” he said. “The whole thing is very suspicious. Even a pretense of democracy would have a better re­sponse.”

Provincial and district officials say they are intent on relocating the families. They said the villa­gers are illegally living on land that was awarded to former village chief Tin On by the courts.

Villagers and human rights groups have questioned the court’s award of the land to Tin On, who has not been seen since the day the five villagers were killed.

Armed with a letter from the Council of Ministers giving them authority to resolve the land issue, provincial officials have purchased a plot of land to relocate the 218 families.

“Right now we just follow the order from the Council of Min­isters,” Sar Chamrong, provincial deputy governor, said Wednes­day.

According to the letter, the Coun­cil of Ministers agreed to “al­low the province to solve the land [dispute] for the 218 families and provide shelter and food.”

Though there is no mention in the letter of an order to move the families, Sar Chamrong said the letter is being interpreted as an “order from the Council of Min­isters to find the villagers new land.”

But the families of Kbal Spean village say the order doesn’t say anything about relocation, but in­stead requires the province to protect them. They also said they haven’t received the promised hu­manitarian assistance mentioned in the letter.

The new land, located about 4 km north of Kbal Spean village, was purchased a few days ago and an NGO has agreed to provide building materials for new homes, Sar Chamrong said.

He admitted villagers were not consulted before the land was purchased. “If we asked them, they would just say no.”

Sar Chamrong would not say what is planned for Kbal Spean village—located near the Thai border and adjacent to a golf course owned by a casino—once the villagers go.

“We will wait for the government to decide what to do next,” he said, adding that land in Poipet is becoming very valuable with the advent of export processing zones and other projects.



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