Cambodian Villager Shot by Security Forces in Plantation Land Dispute

The Kandal province villagers were trying to stop bulldozers from clearing their rice fields.
2021.06.03
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Cambodian Villager Shot by Security Forces in Plantation Land Dispute Villagers block a national road during a protest over a land dispute in Tuol Prech commune, Ang Snoul district, southern Cambodia’s Kandal province, June 3, 2021.
RFA video screenshot

Security forces shot a man during a protest over a land dispute Thursday in Cambodia’s southern Kandal province after he and other villagers tried to stop bulldozers from clearing their rice fields, people involved in the demonstration said.

About 300 villagers staged the protest in Tuol Prech commune, Ang Snoul district, to show their opposition to a government plan to use the state plantation land for military purposes and as a garbage disposal site.

The villagers erected makeshift barricades across National Road 51 near the land and set fires to block traffic in the area after a group of 60 security forces ordered bulldozer drivers to destroy their rice fields without paying them any compensation, said villager Koam Rith.

The villagers resorted to the protest after their efforts to seek a solution from the government failed, he said.

Soldiers and police fired live bullets to disperse local villagers who staged the protest, with a shot fired by the military hitting 56-year-old Mom Chantha in his left shoulder, Koam Rith said. The villager is being treated in a hospital in Phnom Penh.

“We were trying to stop the bulldozers from clearing the land so they shot,” He said. “It is very unjust, they are soldiers and they shot at us. In these modern times, there should be solutions, but there is no solution for villagers,” he said.

Security forces fired their weapons to intimidate and stop the villagers from protesting again, he added.

Koam Savorn, wife of Mom Chantha, told RFA that the shooting was a brutal act, and she urged the government to hold the shooter accountable.

“I am very upset because I am poor,” she said. “I think the shooting was very brutal. Why didn’t they talk instead of shooting at us?”

The woman said that doctors have not allowed her to visit her husband yet, so she was not aware of his condition.

Villagers have called on authorities and the government to deliver justice to them and to the shooting victim. They also said they have been harvesting on the land for the past 30 years, though government officials have refused to grant them land titles.

Soldiers stationed near the land stopped the villagers from using it, they said.

National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy told RFA that authorities are investigating the shooting incident, but he did not provide details.

“The case is being investigated. We can’t say anything more — only the prosecutor can,” he said, adding that authorities would bring the perpetrator to justice.

Vann Sophat, project coordinator for business and human rights at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told RFA that he does not have much faith in the government’s pledge to investigate the incident and mete out justice because military perpetrators are rarely fully punished.

He urged the government to use land dispute mechanisms to resolve disagreements rather than resort to violence.

“The problem is that [shootings by the military] continue to exist,” he said. “Why don’t we use a mechanism to resolve the land dispute?”

Disputes over land use and development are a major cause of social conflicts in many Southeast Asian countries.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written by Roseanne Gerin.

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