By VOA Khmer Stringers
Original reports from Phnom Penh
19 January 2009
Nearly 40 representatives of villagers from Kandal Stung district, Kandal province, who are embroiled in a land dispute with the Heng Akphiwath Company, amassed near Hun Sen’s home, but military police dispersed them and ordered them to return home, human rights officials said.
“In the morning, a lot of villagers representing 292 families tried to hold a protest against Heng Akphiwath, but military policed armed [with weapons] and electric batons tried to block them and push them away,” said one protester, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The military police ordered villagers to stay in their homes or register with police if they planned to leave, the protester said.
Kandal Governor Chhun Sirun denied Monday that military police had blocked a protest.
“I went there this morning, but I did not see any protesters,” he said.
The attempted protest follows a shooting Friday in Kandal Stung, where villagers say military police are aiding Heng Akphiwath in a land grab.
Two men were injured by shots fired by the military police and remain in Meanchey hospital, in Takmao district, while another eight people were injured in ensuing violence.
One man was knocked unconscious, but was recovering at home Monday. Another man was arrested Friday, but was released on Sunday, after he gave $30 to military police, said Am Samath, an investigator for the rights group Licadho.
Officials from Heng Akphiwath Company declined to comment Monday.
Chhun Sirun said the military had fired in self defense, as villagers threatened them with knives and axes. The military police had not fired directly at villagers, but had fired at the ground, the wounded hurt by shrapnel, he said.
He said the incident was “small,” and military police had received reprimands from their commanders, he said.
Monday’s protest was only one among several this week: villagers in the provinces of Siem Reap, Battambang, Kampot also protesting land disputes.