Kratie Provincial Court yesterday released eight villagers arrested in the wake of a violent clash with authorities last week in Snuol district, where villagers battled mixed forces that accompanied Memot Rubber Plantation Company officials attempting to dismantle huts built on company land.
In the aftermath of the altercation, conflicting reports emerged of villagers killed and injured when soldiers opened fire during the standoff. The reports of deaths have since been denied by authorities.
Eight villagers were arrested after the clash and sent to the provincial court.
Deputy provincial police chief Oum Phy yesterday confirmed that the eight villagers were charged with the use of violence against public officials and over forest clearing. “They have since been allowed to return home,” said Mr Phy. “And in the incident, there were no deaths, just two villagers got injured during the fighting.”
The confrontation on Thursday began when about 100 officials, including district officials, a court prosecutor and representatives from the Memot Rubber Plantation Company, attempted to remove 10 huts being built by villagers on company land.
The villagers attempted to block the officials, company reps and accompanying soldiers and police from destroying their huts and measuring company land boundaries.
As fighting broke out, villagers fought armed authorities with sticks, machetes and slingshots, leading to differing reports of injuries and deaths when soldiers responded with live fire.
Din Sivuthy, director of the provincial court, declined to comment on the charges against the villagers, but said they were released and put under court supervision.
“We have released them to go back home, but they are under court supervision,” Mr Sivuthy said.
Rhona Smith, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, yesterday met with Interior Minister Sar Kheng as part of her current mission in the Kingdom and raised concerns over live fire being used on protesters in Kratie.
“I did ask the minister for an update on that case and he said he has sent a team to investigate,” Ms Smith said after her meeting.
The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said over the weekend that it was blocked from gaining access to the site of the clash to investigate the incident.
“We are speaking with people in the community, providing support where we can. We’re also speaking with the authorities and trying to get access the area where the incident happened. So far we have not been able to get access,” OHCHR said in a post on Twitter.
Snuol district governor Kong Kimny said on Sunday that the UN was not blocked from the site, noting that they attempted to visit it on a Saturday, which is a holiday for local authorities that needed to accompany them.
He added that he was going to meet with UN reps yesterday. Mr Kimny could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Kin Nai, 23, one of the eight villagers released on bail yesterday, said he was wrong to clear forest lands.
“The court released us and now I arrived back home,” Mr Nai said. “I admit my mistake and I won’t do it again.”
Mr Nai added that he was arrested after walking away from the roadblock protesters had established to get his motorbike and leave the scene of the clash.
The government granted Memot Rubber Plantation a more than 9,000-hectare economic land concession in Snuol district to grow rubber in 2008.