A dozen farmers are missing, at least one man is presumed dead, and another four villagers are seriously injured after police opened fire on a group of 300 farmers in Siem Reap province Sunday, villagers and human rights groups said.
While carrying out a court-ordered intervention, police fired their guns when they faced Chi Kreng district villagers carrying machetes and wooden sticks, Provincial Governor Sou Phirin said by telephone Sunday, but declined to say whether authorities had fired directly at villagers.
Deputy Provincial Governor Oum Mara, Provincial Chief Prosecutor Ti Sovanthal and Chi Kreng District Governor Koa Samphorn accompanied by about 95 police and military police as they confronted the farmers, Sou Phirin said. The Chi Kreng commune villagers were on their way to work in rice fields that are the subject of a dispute with farmers in Anlong Samnor commune.
“This dispute has gone on for many years, so we are banning both sides from farming,” Sou Phirin said.
Villager representatives, who requested anonymity, said by telephone Sunday that police opened fire on the crowd at about 11 am, hitting one farmer in the stomach and at least three in the legs. They said the man hit in the stomach died, but his body has not been found.
Villagers said that the men wounded during the dispute were not taken to hospital for at least three hours after they were injured. They added that they have been unable to return to search for casualties because the disputed area is being guarded by police officers.
Chan Soveth, chief monitor for rights group Adhoc, said Sunday that 12 villagers were still missing after the dispute, adding he doubted that the farmers would have resisted the police.
“We do not believe that the villagers would fight against police forces with weapons. We appeal to the Ministry of the Interior to take action against those forces,” Chan Soveth said.
Workers at Chi Kreng district referral hospital confirmed that they treated three men for gunshot wounds. They were later moved to Siem Reap municipal referral hospital, according to Mao Yin, Siem Reap representative for Adhoc.
“The police did not permit us to visit the victims, and would not allow the media to speak with the victims,” Mao Yin said.
Chi Kreng district police chief Sok Theavuth said Sunday that 41 people were arrested during the dispute and are being held at the police station. Villagers claimed that at least one man, 28-year-old Mea Seng was beaten on the head by police while he was in handcuffs.
Two of the injured men were identified by villagers as brothers Luon Meat and Luon Vinh.