Workers, Soldier Arrested for Beating Villagers in Land Dispute

The Ratanakkiri Provincial Court on Sunday charged four workers from well-connected rubber firm DM Group with intentional violence after they hospitalized four villa­gers—including two children —who had attempted to stop the company’s bulldozers from clearing their land in Andong Meas district, officials said.

Provincial deputy prosecutor Ros Sa­ram said Ly Phana, 25; Khun Sam­na, 18; Leng Vannak, 26; and Khurt Bunthoeun, 24, were arrested Sat­urday along with Srey Thoeun, 39, a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) soldier who was in possession of a rifle and has been sent to the provincial military police station for questioning.

“We already charged the four offenders with intentional violence. But the gunman has not been charged yet because he is now being questioned by provincial military police,” Mr. Saram said.

District police chief Sovan Phin said the four injured victims were Ry Soklim, 14; his sister Ry Sreypich, 12; his brother Ry Sokleap, 21; and a 21-year-old neighbor whose name was not known Sunday.

He said all four victims were hit with metal and wooden bars and remained Sunday at the provincial hospital with serious injuries to their heads and bodies.

“The offenders used a steel bar and a one-meter long wooden stick to hit the victims,” he said, adding that the victims had confronted the firm’s bulldozers in order to protect land in Nhang commune belonging to Ry Saron, 52, the father of three of the victims.

According to Mr. Phin, student volunteers working for the nationwide land-titling program had arrived in the area in March to demarcate Mr. Saron’s land and later provided him with a land certificate. “The student volunteers measured the land for his family,” he said. “We consider the family is living there legally as they received a land certificate from the student volunteers.”

Provincial deputy police chief Then Dyna confirmed that Mr. Thoeun, the gunman, was an RCAF soldier. “Mr. Thoeun is a soldier, but I do not know which division he works for,” he said. Military officials in Ra­tanakkiri could not be reached.

According to Mr. Saron, after he saw DM Group’s bulldozers approach his land, he took his motorcycle to go and inform student volunteers and local authorities in the area. When the student volunteers arrived they were also threatened by Mr. Thoeun, he said.

“The gunman threatened to kill anyone who tried to prevent the land from being cleared and said he would only pay 4 million riel [about $1,000] in compensation for a dead person,” Mr. Saron said.

Mr. Phin said the volunteers then called police and military police, who arrived and made the arrests.

Ven Vibol, a manager for DM Group, confirmed that four employees of the firm had been ar­rested and put the dispute down to a simple misunderstanding. “This was a misunderstanding between my workers because they were not clear on the ownership of this land, which borders the company’s land,” he said.

DM Group has been locked in land disputes with local villagers in Ratanakkiri for years.

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