Against a backdrop of a rapidly decreasing civil space dramatic video emerged overnight of Cambodia army soldiers shooting into protestors in Kratie province, northeastern Cambodia, with local media reporting of unverified deaths and injuries to protestors, as well as injuries to security officials.
According to a statement issued by provincial administrators two people were injured in the clashes, along with seven security officials, however Radio Free Asia (RFA), who withdrew from Cambodia due to compliance issues last year, and The Phnom Penh Post, cited local residents who reported seeing at least two people shot dead by the Cambodia army.
A villager who claimed to be present during the clash identified as Tin Pheak allegedly told RFA “I know that six people were killed and 40 injured”. Meanwhile, The Phnom Penh Post quoted Ms Tin as saying ‘she saw a woman and a man shot dead by the authorities… “when we came back the police already put the body in a car”‘.
RFA went on to cite additional sources as claiming two more bodies had been found, bring the claimed death tally to eight, while respected Khmer language publication Koh Santepheap Daily reported one person had been killed.
However, according to Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (Adhoc) spokesperson Seoung Sen Karona, no reports of death resulting from the clash have been filed with hs organisation.
The protest revolves around a long running dispute between residents who moved to the area at about the same time as Memot Rubber Plantation Company was granted a land lease in the same area.
According to The Phnom Penh Post the clash yesterday erupted after some 300 villagers attempted to stop the clearing of their homes by officials, resulting in the arrest of one man.
Cambodia Military Police and soldiers are alleged to have previously burned down huts belonging to villagers.
Two days ago United Nations human rights envoy, Rhona Smith, told a media briefing in Phnom Penh that at an earlier meeting with the Cambodia government she had asked it to respect the “rule of law” and to not “rule by law”.
Cambodia’s shrinking civil space
Cambodia has seen considerable tightening of its civil space over the last six months or so. In September last year Kem Sokha, leader of the former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was arrested for treason, with the party itself subsequently dissolved by order of the Cambodia Supreme Court last November.
The ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) claimed the majority of CNRPs parliamentary seats, distributing a handful to minor political parties with no political clout.
In the video above residents can be seen massed around security and civilian officials, a large backhoe sitting on the bed of a truck in the background.
Video posted to multiple social media channels shows what appears to be a Cambodia army officer being ushered into the group, as villagers with what appear to be sticks, hoes, and machetes mill around, blocking the road.
The situation then deescalates with Cambodia army soldiers on one side of the road and villagers on the other, the noise of what appears to be automatic weapon fire clear above the noise of people shouting. At about 02:58 of the clip above, as people are seen running away, a male speaking in Khmer says “they’ve shot two people now”.
The video clip ends with a man sitting on the ground with a wound across his upper thigh, which some are claiming is the result of a bullet graze.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for independent and impartial investigation, and for any Cambodia army commanders found to have used excessive force to be held accountable, but are not optimistic of it happening given the country’s continuing slide away from democracy.
Cambodia is scheduled to hold a general election in July which Prime Minister Hun Sen has made clear he has no intentions of losing, having already rid Cambodia of any meaningful opposition party well ahead of polling booths opening.
Feature photo RFA
- Cambodia Security Forces Shoot Protesters Dead in Land Dispute (Radio Free Asia)
- Kratie villagers claim at least two shot dead by officials, while authorities deny fatalities (The Phnom Penh Post)
- Adhoc Spokesman: No Death Report in a Clash in Kratie (Fresh News)