Local rights group Licadho on Friday urged the government to punish the police and military police officers who opened fire and injured four farmers in Siem Reap province’s Chi Kreng district last weekend during a forced eviction related to a land dispute.
Licadho urged the Ministry of Interior to suspend, pending an investigation, Chi Kreng district deputy police chief Srey Sam Ol, who is alleged to have begun the shooting during the violent eviction, and Spean Thnaut commune policeman Thoeun Hak, who was allegedly responsible for shooting at least two of the four villagers.
Licadho staff, lawyers and 15 farmers present at Sunday’s violent confrontation gathered Friday afternoon at Licadho’s main office in Phnom Penh to show a film of the shooting and to plea for government intervention.
“This was extremely serious violence against villagers committed by government armed forces, and it demands a strong response by the government,” Licadho President Kek Galabru said in a statement released Friday afternoon.
“Where is the law when authorities do something like this to us,” Thuong Sareth, Chi Kreng commune villager, told reporters during the news briefing.
Siem Reap authorities claim that while carrying out a court-ordered eviction from the disputed land, police fired their guns when they faced hundreds of Chi Kreng district villagers carrying machetes and wooden sticks. The villagers say police opened fire on them while they were going to work on their rice fields in Anlong Samnor commune and denied that they were wielding weapons. Following Sunday’s clash, police also arrested nine villagers for allegedly stealing rice.
Of the four men shot Sunday, three remain in the hospital in good condition, Sarin Nheam, a Licadho doctor, said by phone Thursday from Siem Reap, adding the fourth is recovering at home.
Licadho also urged the release of the nine farmers still being held in jail.
“Of the nine in jail Licadho is representing four of them and [Legal Aid of Cambodia] is defending five,” Mathieu Pellerin, a Licadho consultant, said by phone Thursday.
When reached by phone Friday, Siem Reap Municipal Court Prosecutor Ti Sovanthal said that he was investigating the Chi Kreng incident though he had no instructions to investigate police officers.
Government lawyer Pol Chan Dara said Friday that the government has already stepped in to help resolve the situation in Chi Kreng.
“The government is solving the problem,” he said, adding that a committee that includes members of the Ministry of Interior had been formed and that it will investigate.