Two villagers were injured in Banteay Meanchey’s Malai district Saturday morning when RCAF soldiers fired into a crowd of villagers protesting the bulldozing of their land, rights workers and villagers said.
Authorities said Sunday that the troops acted in self defense.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights investigator Chhim Savuth said by telephone that more than 500 villagers from Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces marched to Takong commune’s Bos Thom Thmei village to protest the clearing of their land, allegedly by a Bos Thom Thmei resident he identified as Chea Sam Ath.
Chhim Savuth claimed that during the protest, Chea Sam Ath and his wife ordered the soldiers to open fire on the protesting villagers. Than Korn, 40, and Khieu Savuth, 36, both suffered bullet wounds to their legs, he said.
“Chea Sam Ath and his wife ordered soldiers to shoot at the villagers when they were protesting,” he said, claiming that the pair had sold land belonging to the protesting villagers.
Soum Chan Kea, Banteay Meanchey province coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said the protesting villagers are preparing to file a complaint with the provincial court.
“They should not use violence and shoot at people,” he said of the soldiers, adding that the protestors were unarmed.
Chea Sam Ath could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Nhem Sarun, RCAF commander for Malai district, said that his soldiers were called in after the protestors had attacked Bos Thom Thmei villagers with knives. The demonstrators then attacked the soldiers, he said.
“They beat villagers and my soldiers helped to intervene, but the [protesting] villagers hit them and tried to cut them,” he said.
He added that Chea Sam Ath and his wife could not have ordered the soldiers to fire because they have no authority to do so.
“They were trying to burn other villagers’ houses and they were trying to cut the soldiers,” Malai District Deputy Police Chief Sao Bun claimed of the protestors. “The soldiers opened fire to protect themselves.”
Y Bunthan, 32, one of the protesting villagers, said by telephone that the demonstration was peaceful.
“We did nothing. We did not beat other villagers and soldiers,” she said.