Around 40 of 300 villagers who were shot at by police and military police Sunday in Siem Reap prov-ince arrived in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, seeking legal help from a local human rights group in their land dispute with an official.
Thirty-three men and a handful of women and children knocked on the door of the Adhoc office in Phnom Penh on Tuesday afternoon, and more were expected to arrive, Adhoc senior monitor Chan Soveth said. The villagers intend to protest in front of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house over the land dispute and to seek the release of nine villagers imprisoned after Sunday’s confrontation, he added.
On Sunday, 95 police and military police reportedly opened fire on the group of 300 farmers, who accuse authorities, including Chi Kreng district Governor Kao So-phoan, of plotting to sell the land they have been farming since 1981.
Police say the villagers had been carrying machetes and threatening police, while the villagers say they were simply walking to their rice fields in Anlong Samnor commune. Kao Sophoan has denied the villagers’ accusations that he is conspiring to take their land.
Three villagers sustained gunshot wounds and were sent to the hospital.
One villager, Mean Morng, who witnesses claimed had been shot in the stomach and had believed dead, arrived safe and healthy in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. He said he had been hiding in the jungle.
In interviews at the Adhoc of-fice, villagers said they fled after the shooting and after police, they alleged, had destroyed or stolen their belongings.
“We had no food to eat for two days after we escaped to come here,” said Chea Moeun, 52, from Bos Pork village. “We walked two nights and three days until we reached Kompong Thom prov-ince’s Stong district, and came here by taxi.”
“Their actions were very cruel, like bandits,” he said of the operation by authorities on Sunday.
National military police commander Sao Sokha declined to comment on the violence.
National Police spokesman Ki-eth Chantharith confirmed the injuries and arrests but declined to say if the police’s conduct would be investigated.
Siem Reap Governor Sou Phirin couldn’t be reached for comment.
Adhoc monitor Mao Yin said the governor was at the site of the violence in Chi Kreng district with UN human rights office investigators Tuesday.