A security guard hired by the Union Development Group (UDG), a Chinese firm building a $3.8-billion tourist mecca in a remote coastal area of Koh Kong province, was on Monday handed a one-year suspended sentence for punching a local woman in the face last year, according to court officials and the victim.
Villagers living on UDG’s 45,000-hectare concession inside Botum Sakor National Park, which was awarded to the company in 2010, have long complained of harassment, threats and violence by the firm’s security guards, who they believe are employed to force them off the land.
With the claims of violence hard to substantiate, none of the guards have previously faced prosecution at the Koh Kong Provincial Court. On Monday, however, Presiding Judge Saing Serei found Lon Navy guilty over a violent attack in May 2014.
“The court sentenced him to one year in prison, but the sentence…is suspended,” Judge Serei said of the guard by telephone. “The court ordered him to pay 2 million riel [about $500] in compensation and 2 million riel more to the state.”
“It was just minor harm,” he added.
The judge declined to comment further, but a deputy prosecutor, Srey Makny, said the case concerned the assault on a villager, and was heard at the court on June 30 last year. “The court has charged him with intentional violence,” he said.
According to rights group Licadho, Mr. Navy was released on bail following his arrest.
The complainant, Khun Phalla, 40, said the one-year suspended sentence was insufficient punishment for an attack she said occurred when 15 guards descended on her rice field.
“The security guard punched me in the face and pushed me down in the rice field,” Ms. Phalla said of Mr. Navy. “The court should put him in prison, because he has mistreated many people.”
“Concerning the compensation, it is too little, because I have spent a lot of money on my illnesses and had been demanding $8,000,” she added.
Ly Tech Hey, a foreman for UDG, said the guard was no longer employed by the company.
“Lon Navy stopped working in January 2015. There’s no reason…. He might have thought the work was difficult,” he said, going on to defend Mr. Navy’s actions during the May attack.
“At that time, they had gone to stop the villagers [from farming on UDG’s concession], but did not use violence.”