At least seven protesters and three police officers were seriously injured yesterday in a 15-minute confrontation in Kompong Speu’s Odong district during which police and military police opened fire to break up a land dispute demonstration, human rights workers and villagers said.
Human rights workers from the organizations Adhoc and Licadho who were present said two police officers and a military police officer were seriously injured and brought to the provincial referral hospital after protesters armed with knives, axes and bamboo sticks confronted the armed forces.
More than 400 protesters blocked Road 51 in Phnom Touch commune for about nine hours, causing a kilometer-long traffic jam before the fighting erupted. Han Ny, a representative of the protesters, said the armed forces had fired about 50 shots into the ground, air and toward the protesters, injuring two, while five others were beaten and shocked with electric batons.
Mr Ny said that more than 500 police, military police and RCAF soldiers led by provincial prosecutor Khut Sopheang had employed lethal force against the protesters, who were demonstrating over a disputed 65 hectares of land claimed by Meng Keth Company, which is owned by Taiwanese businessman Chang Kuo Sheng.
At issue is the legality of a land title acquired in 1997 by Mr Chang, who was only naturalized as a Cambodian citizen 10 years ago. Foreigners are prohibited from owning land.
“These cruel armed forces are colluding with court officials to grab our land to give to a rich Taiwanese guy, and they were not hesitant in firing at us,” Mr Ny said.
Mr Sopheang and Chan Da, deputy commander of the provincial military police, said a number of armed forces members had been injured in the clash.
“But I can clarify that the competent forces never shot at the villagers,” Mr Da said, declining to comment further.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor at Licadho, said his organization was treating the injured protesters, two of whom had been shot in the arms, legs and feet. He said one military police officer sustained ax wounds to his hips, while another sustained a serious head wound.
“But I don’t think the armed forces aimed into the crowd, otherwise it would have been a terrible tragedy,” he said.
Rath Thavy, a provincial investigator for Adhoc, said: “Whatever court officials and armed forces did, it was just to win. It doesn’t matter to them if they confront and injure the villagers; they don’t have to discuss the issue with the affected families.”
Sun Bun Chhuon represents 88 families from three communes in Kandal and Kompong Speu provinces who claim to have used the land since 1979. He said the villagers would continue to contest a Dec 31, 2009, Supreme Court verdict awarding the land to Mr Chang. The first attempt to enforce the verdict was in March last year. This also resulted in clashes between villagers and the armed forces.
“The verdict is unjust, because there are a lot of irregularities over the issuance of the land title for the Taiwanese businessman,” Mr Bun Chhuon said.
“We blocked the road because we want to protect our land,” he added.
Contact information for Mr Chang was not available yesterday.
Contacted by telephone yesterday, Ky Dara, a former Meng Keth representative, said he had sold his 10-percent stake in the company months ago and declined to comment on yesterday’s violence, but he said the land was bought legally in 1997.