Police Probe Beating of Sugarcane Workers

Police said on Thursday they were investigating allegations that the Chinese managers of a worksite for a sugarcane concession had severely beaten three workers for stealing oil and fertilizer, and that one of them later died of his injuries.

Tiem Sang Kream, the chief of Chey Sen district police in Preah Vihear province, said the beating was apparently witnessed by other workers and allegedly happened earlier this month. Police investigations began two weeks ago, he said.

“We are working every day, talking to villagers who are farming close to the plantation, but we have not confirmed that it is true,” Mr. Sang Kream said.

“We cannot question the Chinese managers because we do not yet have enough facts.”

Allegations of the beating, which is said to have happened on a site belonging to the Chinese sugarcane concession Heng Rui—one of five sister concessions in Preah Vihear, including the better-known Rui Feng plantation—surfaced at the same time that nearby commune police began questioning locals over buying oil stolen from the company, rights workers said.

“The workers stole oil to sell because the company hadn’t given them a salary for three or four months,” said Lor Chhan, provincial coordinator at rights group Adhoc, who has been interviewing workers and villagers about the alleged beating.

Workers thought to be responsible for stealing the oil fled the plantation before police reached them, he said. However, villagers and fellow workers have said that three other men who had nothing to do with the thefts had been beaten, with one having died from his injuries, Mr. Chhan said. He did not know how the workers were beaten or what their injuries were.

Given the itinerant sugarcane workforce, mostly from southern provinces, it would be hard to identify the beaten workers, he said.

Earlier this week, police questioned 14 locals in M’lou Prey II commune in relation to a woman found selling stolen oil at a nearby market in the district, he added.

He said Heng Rui had complained repeatedly about workers stealing cement and oil from their factory, and allegations of beatings were not new.

“There’s been violence before,” he said.

NGO Ponlok Khmer, based in Preah Vihear, also said this week that it was aware of the allegations.

Reached on Thursday, representatives of the five-company sugar conglomerate said they could not immediately comment.

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