Shots Fired As Villagers and Police Clash in Eviction Showdown

Police allegedly opened fire above the heads of protesting Kompong Speu villagers early yesterday morning during a Supreme Court-ordered eviction that turned violent and left at least a dozen people injured, villagers and human rights workers said.

Due to the fracas, police retreated without carrying out the court verdict or managing to evict any villagers from their homes or land, officials said.

The confrontation broke out when armed provincial police and military police were attempting to remove 88 families from 65 hectares of disputed land claimed by a Taiwanese businessman who is now a naturalized Cambodian citizen.

The businessman, Chang Kuo Sheng, won a six-year legal battle by producing a 1993 title to the disputed land, despite the fact that the families say they have lived there as farmers since the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.

Led by Kompong Speu Provincial Court Judge Keo Mony, dozens of police and military police officers were deployed to the 65 hectares in Odong district’s Phnom Touch commune at around 3 am yesterday, rights workers said.

As the security forces started demolishing homes, the villagers began to fight back against the police, who were armed with batons and electric batons. The melee intensified as the villagers armed themselves with long wooden sticks. At around 6:45 am, police allegedly shot above the heads of the protesters with AK-47 assault rifles.

“This is using the Supreme Court verdict to create a bloody battlefield to grab villagers’ land,” said Ouch Leng, a monitor for local rights group Adhoc who was at the site yesterday.

Mr Leng said the verdict was being enforced in the very early hours of the morning in an attempt to hush up the eviction and keep it from being monitored by human rights organizations.

Five villagers were reportedly injured in the fighting with police, he said.

Ky Dara, a representative of the Meng Kith firm, which is a partnership with Kuo Sheng, said he received information that 14 police officers in total were hit with rocks and nail-studded sticks.

“I am really sorrow that the competent forces as well as a court official were injured while trying to carry out the court verdicts,” said Mr Dara, who is also a National Police colonel.

“Now these people caused injury to police and court officials and might be sued for such violent injuries,” he said.

Commune chief Yin Soeurng blamed villagers for the violence, saying they had already sold their land to private businessmen and had lost several court cases to keep it.

“These people sold all the land, which is why they should not behave like that, causing the competent forces as well as a court official to get injured with their flying rocks,” Mr Soeurng said.

Both Mr Soeurng and Mr Dara said they were not sure about future plans to attempt to carry out the court-ordered eviction.

Reached by phone yesterday, provincial police chief Keo Pisey declined to speak with a reporter, saying he was in a meeting. Deputy provincial police chief Meach Samoeun said a number of police had been injured in the process of carrying out the eviction, but he could not provide more details.

Kompong Speu deputy provincial governor Kang Heang has warned earlier in the week of the potential for violence as the villagers were adamant they would not be moved from their land.

“How could the armed forces in uniform open fire at landowners who have never sold their land?” asked Sun Bun Chhoun, one of the protesting villagers.

“Two bullets went flying past to my ears,” he said yesterday, alleging police fired at the villagers and not above them.

Villager Chhoeung Cheatha, 24, claimed he was struck repeatedly on his head, back and chest by police batons and that the authorities had initiated the violence.

“They started beating villagers,” he said.

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