Military police man a checkpoint in Siem Reap's Anlong Samnor commune following outbreaks of violence Sunday. (Photo by: KYLE SHERER)
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Written by Chrann Chamroeun and Kyle Sherer
The Phnom Penh Post
Siem Reap province:
Local officials and rights groups say armed confrontation between police and villagers is the result of long-simmering land dispute between rival communes.
WITH some villagers in prison, others in hospital with serious bullet wounds and more still missing, the mystery surrounding the swift yet brutal eruption of violence Sunday in a long-simmering Siem Reap land dispute continues, with opposition lawmakers petitioning the National Assembly for an investigation.
In a formal request to parliament Monday, Ke Sovannroth, the Sam Rainsy Party's representative from Siem Reap, asked for a probe into Sunday's fighting between rival communes and local authorities in Chi Kraeng district, which saw at least four people injured.
Some 90 armed security personnel, sent by local authorities, opened fire on a crowd of about 300 Chi Kraeng villagers when they prevented the arrest of community representative Kim Savoeun, the SRP said.
Chi Kraeng villagers have been locked in dispute with neighbouring Anlong Samnor commune over a 92-hectare plot of land for years now, the SRP added.
"Authorities should have solved the problem peacefully because they have tried to solve this dispute several times already," Ke Sovannroth said in the party's request to the National Assembly.
In a statement Monday, Siem Reap's provincial Department of Information said that troops opened fire on the crowd in Chi Kraeng district at 9am Sunday, as they confronted about 100 villagers carrying machetes and wooden sticks.
The department said police and military police were sent to enforce a court-ordered arrest warrant for Kim Savoeun, who was hiding among the crowd.
According to the statement, villagers from neighbouring Chi Kraeng and Anlong Samnor communes are disputing the plot of land that abuts the two communes, and that authorities have made many attempts to resolve the problem.
Nou Puthyk, provincial coordinator for Cambodian rights group Licadho, told the Post that the group would launch its own investigations into both the land dispute and the response by the authorities.
"We visited three victims today with serious bullet wounds," he said, adding that a fourth injured man was being treated in hospital.
"We are undertaking a thorough investigation to clear up the problem of who has the right to the 92 hectares of farmland."
He said that provincial Governor Sou Phirin ruled on February 2 that Anlong Samnor residents could continue farming the land, while Chi Kraeng commune residents would receive a social land concession.
Sou Phirin said Monday that he regretted the violence and that those injured would have their medical bills paid for.
Despite Sunday's violence, 155 Chi Kraeng families continued Monday to squat land, in what Anlong Samnor commune chief Seng Young described as an "invasion".
He said that the altercation erupted Sunday when Anlong Samnor farmers attempted to harvest their rice but were forced to call the police when Chi Kraeng farmers refused them access to the land.
"My people tried to harvest their crops, but the people from Chi Kraeng village went to fight them and took the crops," he said.
"The police went to settle the problem, but the Chi Kraeng people wanted to fight the police instead," Seng Young said.
"They don't listen to the governor or the military police. They just fight whoever goes near them."
Licadho's Nou Puthyk said that of the 40 people arrested, those who were allowed to return home had to sign a statement promising not to continue the dispute.
Those remaining in police custody are accused of masterminding the violence and could be charged with robbery for allegedly taking the land, Ty Sovinthal said.
Chhuon Leng, a Chi Kraeng villager, also confirmed that only nine people, including representative Kim Savoeun, remained in prison, while the other 30 had been released.
"There are still people who are missing, and we are looking for them now," he said.