Officials Give Conflicting Accounts in Arrest of Two Kampot Men

Two men arrested in a Kampot province commune on Tuesday following a violent clash between military police and villagers during a forced eviction the week before have been released, although confusion still surrounds why they were detained.

Although military police maintain the arrests were unrelated to the violent confrontation, villagers and government officials offered conflicting accounts over the reasons for their arrests and eventual release.

Deputy provincial military police commander Sem Soeun said the two men were arrested on Tuesday in Chhuk district’s Techo Aphivat commune when they were caught clearing a plot of state land. They were released later that evening after signing contracts with officials vowing not to commit the crime again, he said.

“We arrested the two people and handed them over to the Forestry Administration, but the pair was released because they did not commit a serious crime,” Mr. Soeun said.

But one of the men arrested, Rith Sopheak, claims the two were arrested in connection to a land dispute involving a land concession granted to First Biotech Investment (Cambodia) that erupted in violence on August 11 when villagers destroyed three cars after company security guards, bolstered by military police, razed 42 homes.

“About 30 soldiers and security guards from the firm asked me why I destroyed the car. I told them I was not there during the violence, but they did not believe me and threatened to kill me with a gun,” Mr. Sopheak said.

Provincial court prosecutor Khan Chansophal claimed military police had captured video of the scuffle and said up to 30 others could face arrest.

On Sunday, Chhuk district governor Kheav Rithy Phoan seemed to validate Mr. Sopheak’s account when he said the two men had been released after police found they had not been involved in the violence at the company’s land.

“Authorities already released the two people because we don’t have evidence to prove they committed the crime,” Mr. Phoan said.

Mr. Sopheak claims that he was detained at the district military police station on Tuesday afternoon and escaped that night. In the evening, his cuffs were removed and his hands were tied with string, Mr. Sopheak claims, adding that he got away when the officers fell asleep after drinking alcohol throughout the evening.

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