Violence erupted yesterday in Kratie province’s Snuol district where six people were reportedly shot and injured when RCAF soldiers working for a rubber company opened fire on a crowd of villagers, who were trying to stop the company from clearing land in the area, police and human rights workers said. “The villagers were shot by soldiers who were hired by the company,” Kratie provincial deputy police chief Oum Phy said.
“This case is being resolved by the provincial authorities,” Mr. Phy said.
Kratie Provincial Governor Kham Phoeun declined to comment on the shooting while Snuol’s district governor, Iv Saphum, had little to say about the shooting, but explained that the TTY Co. Ltd. had been granted a 8,000-hectare rubber concession in 2008 in Pi Thnou commune.
Rights workers condemned the violence and called for the arrest of the soldiers involved.
The incident occurred at about 10 a.m. when a group of about 300 villagers approached workers of the TTY Co. Ltd. to demand that they stop clearing a piece of land in Phi Thnou commune along national road 76a, where villagers were drying their cassava harvest, said villager Keo Ran, 52.
As they reached the company’s excavator and bulldozer, a soldier employed by the company climbed on a truck and began firing his AK-47 assault rifle into the crowd. Soon other soldiers joined in the shooting, said Mr. Ran, who was about 100 meters away.
“The villagers didn’t touch the machines or use violence first,” he said. “It’s a brutal act that the guards used their guns to shoot at villagers.”
Am Sam Ath, senior coordinator for rights group Licadho, said he was told that six people had been injured during the shooting, adding that he had seen four of the injured at Kompong Cham Provincial Referral Hospital.
He said he knew one man was shot in the back and one man was in critical condition after being shot in both his thighs, adding that this victim, Mong Touch, 23, had been sent to Vietnam for treatment.
“We condemn [the actions of] those people who shot at the villagers. It’s a serious human rights abuse,” Mr. Sam Ath said. “The government should be quick to arrest those who fired the shots.”
Net Rattana, 23, was in the crowd when the soldiers opened fire and a bullet grazed her left knee.
“The two company guards stood on the truck and they used AK-47s to spray [salvo’s] into the crowd of villagers,” she said. “I was very shocked when I heard that the sound of gunshots, and I tried to escape. I was hit in the left knee, I am very lucky,” said Ms. Rattana, who had returned home after receiving treatment at a private clinic in Snuol City.
As the wounded lay on the ground, the soldiers however, would not let them be transported, Mr. Ran said, adding that there were about 20 guards, five of whom were armed RCAF soldiers.
“The villagers tried to take the wounded people out, but the guards tried to stop them,” he said, adding that the injured were left bleeding on the ground for about 30 minutes. “They didn’t want us to take those people to hospital.”
TTY company representatives could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Snuol district has seen an influx of at least 10 rubber companies in recent years that have been granted vast swathes of land along 30 kilometers of national road 76a, which runs through Pi Thnou and Khyoem communes.
The concessions threaten thousands of poor, landless families, who settled along the road during the past decade in search of farmland. In recent years, as the companies have begun to clear their concessions land disputes have frequently flared up.
Adhoc land rights monitor Ouch Leng said the shooting incident was a direct result of the numerous rubber concessions that were granted in Snuol district without regard for the farms and livelihoods of poor families.
“The government cannot treat the people as squatters… It’s the responsibility of the government to take care of the poor people, they cannot just chase them from place to place,” he said.
Mr. Leng said Snuol had the most land disputes of any district in Cambodia.
“In the future maybe a land revolution will start from Snuol if the government does not protect the land rights of the poor people. The December 2 revolution also started from Snuol district,” he said.