Three Provisionally Charged in Violent Kampot ELC Eviction

A reporter and two villagers have been provisionally charged after a rowdy land concession protest in Kampot province last week erupted in violence, leaving cars destroyed and seriously injuring a security guard, court officials said on Monday.

Chea Sitha, 42, a reporter from Power People Newspaper, and villagers Sok Pisey, 52, and Proeung Pran, 41, were provisionally charged with acts of violence; infringement on public property; and destruction, defacement and damage of property, provincial court prosecutor Khan Chansophal said on Monday.

“They were sent to Investigating Judge Ang Sophea to continue questioning,” Mr. Chansophal said.

The three were detained on Friday in Chhuk district after villagers clashed with military police and security guards over their right to stake homes on 10,000 hectares of land granted to First Biotech Investment (Cambodia) in a 2007 economic land concession, military officials and deputy provincial governor Sim Vuthy said.

Authorities accuse the three men of inciting villagers who used sticks, axes and hammers to pound two of the company’s cars and one military vehicle following the removal of 42 homes, which officials later burned. Protesters also severely beat a company security guard who was later taken to a hospital for treatment, military police said.

Mr. Chansophal said up to 30 others could face arrest after the court investigates military police video taken during the scuffle in Techo Aphivat commune.

“We know the identities of the offenders but they escaped after the incident,” he said.

Judge Sophea confirmed he had received the three suspects.If convicted, they face prison terms of between one and five years and fines of 4 million to 50 million riel, or about $1,000 to $12,500.

Bo Sambath, who settled on the disputed land, said the violence had stymied their plans to protest the evictions. More than 100 families had left following the confrontation out of fear the company’s guards would retaliate, he said, estimating that 30 families had stayed.

“I am disappointed with the authorities because they never came to intervene when security guards fired weapons and destroyed our homes. But when the people responded, we saw military police and arrests,” Mr. Sambath said.

Mr. Vuthy said disputes should be settled through the court.

“The authority is always concerned about the people’s standard of living,” he said. “We never abandoned them.”

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Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the size of First Biotech’s land concession.

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