ELC Eviction Turns Violent as Cars Destroyed, Guard Beaten

Military police in Kampot province arrested three men they say incited violence amid a protest on Friday that destroyed three vehicles and left a security guard seriously injured after he was beaten to near death, according to officials.

The incident occurred in Chhuk district’s Techo Aphivat commune after military police and private security guards forcibly destroyed 42 homes, later setting fire to the structures, following claims by cashew-harvesting firm First Biotech Investment (Cambodia) Co. Ltd. that villagers and economic migrants had encroached on land granted to them by a 2007 economic land concession (ELC), military police said.

Provincial military police deputy commander Sem Soeun said on Sunday that the arrests were made after Chea Sitha, 42, a reporter from Power People Newspaper, and villagers Sok Pisey, 52, and Proeung Pran, 41, led a crowd of about 300 stick-wielding villagers to confront officers and company security guards about the removals.

“We have arrested the three people because they incited people to destroy the cars belonging to authorities and the company,” Mr. Soeun said, adding that two company cars and one military vehicle were attacked with axes and hammers.

A security guard was taken to a hospital for medical treatment on Friday after he was severely beaten with a long stick, and the commune chief was shot in the chest with a slingshot, Mr. Soeun said.

Hem Chandara, deputy provincial military police commander, said on Sunday that one of the arrested men had been sent to the provincial prison and charged with destruction of property. The other two were still being held at military police headquarters and would be sent to court for questioning today, he said.

The arrests follow two complaints of land-grabbing filed with the provincial court and to military police by Chan Rith, Kampot’s agriculture department director, on behalf of First Biotech, Mr. Soeun said. Mr. Rith said on Sunday that initially 16 families moved onto the company’s land in January, but the number had increased to more than 100 families from various provinces, including Svay Rieng, Kompong Speu and Prey Veng.

“We gave those people three months to remove their shelters from the company’s land, but they ignored our request and brought more people to stay on the land,” Mr. Rith said.

Deputy Kampot governor Sim Vuthy said First Biotech was granted 10,000 hectares of land in 2007.

Heng Phearak, an investigator for rights group Adhoc, said villagers were evicted from the farmland in 2007 after the ELC was granted and returned last year with a petition to the National Assembly and Land Management Ministry seeking intervention.

Mr. Phearak said the government bodies issued two letters to provincial authorities requesting they seek a solution for the evicted families but were ignored.

“The people told us that soldiers and security guards of the company opened gunfire many times to threaten them,” Mr. Phearak said, adding that villagers had reported three disputes with soldiers and guards since August 2.

Bo Sambath, who lives on the disputed land, said officials had issued death threats against villagers.

“The armed forces have burned people’s houses,” Mr. Sambath said. “We did not dare to protest the destruction of our homes because they threaten to kill us with guns.”

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