Violent skirmishes erupted again between workers and villagers at the restive KDC development site Thursday, with both sides blaming the other for using weapons and instigating the fracas. Clashes last occurred at the site on July 7, when about a hundred police were dispatched to Lor Peang village in Kompong Chhnang province.
Kompong Tralach district police chief Hul Veasna said about 60 people were involved in the clash, the latest flare-up in a seven-year land dispute centering around a planned development project by KDC, which is owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem.
“The argument occurred after villagers attacked the workers with slingshots; then the workers responded,” he said, adding that he led a group of police officers to break up the spat.
“I have not seen with my eyes that villagers used homemade guns, but the workers reported to me that they did use guns and caused four workers minor injuries during the attack,” he added.
Beginning this month, KDC has begun building a 2-meter concrete wall around 145 hectares of land that villagers, who have been farming the land since the 1980s, say was illegally grabbed by Ms. Kheng in 2007.
The injured workers have already filed a complaint in the wake of Thursday’s incident, Mr. Veasna said, accusing the villagers of destroying company property and causing injury, while the villagers have filed their own complaint against the workers for using projectile weapons against them.
Lor Peang village representative Oum Sophy said villagers merely wanted to watch the workers as they continue building a wall at the top of the sandbank.
“We came to look at the workers building the wall, but they broke up the wall and attacked us with slingshots,” she said. “Then our villagers responded.”
She said 10 villagers were injured in the melee, which began at about 2 p.m. and lasted two hours, ending only when the workers retreated.
Am Sam Ath, the technical supervisor at rights group Licadho, was at the site Thursday to monitor the situation and said he saw slingshots being used by both sides.
“I was there during the attack today, but I did not dare get too close,” he said.
“More than 100 people were attacking the workers, but I did not see how many workers attacked the villagers with slingshots, because they were behind the wall of the company.”
He said he now believes that KDC, which has offered $10,000 to some of the dispossessed families, will use this latest incident “to accuse those villagers and have them put in jail for what occurred today.”