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Police open fire during land dispute, killing eight and wounding dozens

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Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Security forces in Cambodia’s northeastern Kratie province on Thursday opened fire on a group of villagers protesting over a long-running land dispute with a rubber plantation, killing as many as six people and wounding dozens of others, a human rights group reported. Local residents say two more people have died. For their part, the authorities say no one died.

More than 400 residents of Thnou commune, in Kratie’s Snuol district, blocked National Road 76A for three hours (pictured), beginning around 9 am on Thursday, after workers from the Memot Rubber Plantation and security forces burnt down the huts and razed the farms of 300 villagers locked in a dispute over ownership of the land, a witness told RFA’s Khmer Service.

The demolition came a day after Kratie provincial authorities met with the villagers in a bid to resolve the dispute with Memot — which leased the land around the same time residents settled in the area — but were unable to come to an agreement.

Around 150 soldiers, police and military police were deployed to remove protesters from the road, and security.

A video of the confrontation, circulating on social media, shows villagers with sticks and machetes arguing with authorities.

At one point, at least 30 shots can be heard as the villagers run away, and a separate video purportedly shows a man shot in the thigh receiving medical treatment from fellow protesters.

Citing eyewitnesses and the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC*), Cambodia’s oldest human rights organization, RFA and the Phnom Penh Post have reported that eight people have been confirmed dead and 40 wounded.

However, the authorities have denied the media claims, accusing them of spreading fake news. Provincial Governor Sar Chamrong said that no one was killed and that only two people, a man and a woman, reported minor injuries.

Another villager was arrested for causing the clash, and that some farmers had “homemade guns”.

In a separate account, National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said that two people were injured, and ten were arrested as a result of the unrest.

According to the police report, villagers were armed with knives and axes, but no mention of homemade guns. Police fired into the air to prevent any “violence”.

“After some shooting, the people dispersed, but we do not know how the weapons ricocheted to hit the two people, one man and woman,” the police spokesman said, adding that the National Police were regretful of the injuries.

Pi Thnou municipal chief Pong Vin said he tried to negotiate with villagers to clear the road but protesters would only leave if authorities resolved their land dispute.

Adhoc coordinator Be Vanny, who initially reported the deaths, said that he was simply passing on information he had received, adding that he was now “wanted” by police.

Soueng Sen Karuna, land rights coordinator at Adhoc, said that he had been contacted by a Kratie Provincial Court official demanding the rights group retract its previous statement, but Court spokesman Tiv Vuth Then denied the court had contacted the rights group.

* Association pour les droits de l’Homme et le développement au Cambodge

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