o’chrou district, Banteay Meanchey province – After repeatedly stating they had released all villagers arrested at Monday’s disastrous eviction of Kbal Spean, government officials revealed Thursday that they were still holding one Sam Rainsy Party-affiliated villager.
The continued arrest was disclosed when the wife of the detained villager, Ieng Saroeun, confronted Banteay Meanchey provincial governor Heng Chantha as he distributed assistance to the evicted families near Kbal Spean on Thursday.
“Please help release my husband,” a crying Khuon Ngeth, pleaded with Heng Chantha as he and other officials distributed aid.
Heng Chantha told Khuon Ngeth that he would help release her husband and proceeded to make several calls from his mobile phone as she stood nearby.
Asked why government officials had hidden the villager’s arrest, Heng Chantha refused comment.
On Monday, more than 200 heavily armed provincial police and military police officers shot and killed five villagers during an attempt to enforce a court decision granting ownership of the six hectares of land the village was built on to village Chief Tin On.
More than 25 villagers and nine soldiers were arrested during Monday’s eviction. Various government officials, including members of a government committee charged with investigating the shootings, refuted claims a villager was still being held.
An Sum, Banteay Meanchey first deputy governor, told villagers a warrant for Ieng Saroeun’s arrest had been issued by the court prior to the eviction.
“He has been accused of being a leader in [village eviction] resistance since the beginning,” An Sum said.
Khuon Ngeth said Thursday that her husband was an SRP supporter and village representative, but she and other villagers said the decision to resist police was not politically motivated. Senior village representatives said Thursday that they were CPP supporters.
“Why was he arrested? I ask Heng Chantha to release him because he has been detained since the shootings. The people who arrested my husband did not have the warrant for arrest,” she said.
Officials also contradicted earlier statements they made relating to the number of police and military police officers that had been arrested and were being questioned. On Tuesday, government officials said they had arrested 12 military police officers and two police officers who had fired into the air during the eviction. None of the officers, officials said, had yet been implicated in the killings.
But Banteay Meanchey Deputy Governor Sok Sareth, who had made the earlier claim on Tuesday, said Wednesday that 11 military police officers, two police officers and one villager had been arrested and were being detained. He refused to comment further, saying he was busy in a meeting.
Officials were also unable to explain who owns the land surrounding Kbal Spean and said they did not know if Star Vegas casino or any other company was planning to develop the village.