After questioning villagers, authorities have yet to identify any suspects in Monday’s execution-style slaying of a man involved in a land dispute in Battambang province’s remote Samlot district, where villagers have been pitted against the military over land, officials said yesterday.
“I ordered my Samlot district police officers to investigate the murder because that area is a very complicated location,” provincial police chief Sar Thet said, adding that he believed the aim of Monday’s killing was to scare villagers involved in land disputes in the area.
Unknown assailants executed 59-year-old Pich Sophorn about 50 meters from his O’Samril commune home, shooting him seven times in his chest and arms with an AK-47 assault rifle. Mr Sophorn was a witness in a similar attack by unidentified gunmen earlier this month that left another village representative seriously injured with bullet wounds.
The two shootings were the third and fourth attacks by still-unidentified perpetrators since 2005. Villagers in the area have been involved in multiple land disputes with officials from the RCAF 5th Division and a Korean company, according to human-rights workers investigating the spiraling violence.
Yin Mengly, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said the victim’s family, which lives in Banteay Meanchey province, has yet to file a complaint with Adhoc or authorities.
Adhoc’s chief monitor Chan Soveth said the lack of security in Samlot district has made even his investigators think twice about going there to document the killing.
“We have not yet collected all the information on the land disputes in that place because in that place the security is not so good,” Mr Soveth said, adding that Adhoc will send rights workers there after authorities look into the shooting of Mr Sophorn.
The investigation, however, had not proceeded very far yesterday.
“We are getting very little light in our investigation,” said Oerm Seng Oeun, military police commander for Samlot district, adding that Monday’s killing was “strongly suspected of being connected with a land dispute.”
Only two villagers from the victim’s commune came to the military police office for questioning yesterday, though four were invited, he said.
“We only have a few witnesses who know about [Mr Sophorn],” Mr Seng Oeun said.
(Additional reporting by Clancy McGilligan)