Soldiers opened fire on a group of villagers protesting a land dispute in Tuol Pich commune, Kandal province, injuring at least one person.
In a video posted to widely to Facebook, scores of farmers — a handful armed with wooden and metal sticks — can be seen approaching an excavator. As they get closer to the machine, soldiers can be shooting over their heads, toward the ground, and at the group, shooting one man in the shoulder.
The victim, Um Chantha, 56, from Srepour village, was sent to Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh. His relative confirmed Chantha’s condition is stable.
Villagers and local authorities said the conflict dates back to late last year and involves seven villages in dispute over a portion of 280 hectares of land — part of which is owned by the state and used as a dump site and military base.
Yan Sokhem, from Ang Taseth village, said she and other families have lived and farmed the land since 1979. While a portion was set aside for state property years ago, she said, the area in dispute has long been farmed by villagers.
“How can it be state land because people have been farming on the land since 1979?” she said.
Sokhem said most villagers in the area have steep debt and have no money to pay the bank.
“When they do not allow us to do farming, how can we survive? If there is no solution people will continue to block the road. We are not afraid of dying if they want to kill people because we have nothing left,” she said.
Koy Rem, who lives in Khlong village, said that the conflict began at the end of 2020, when soldiers came to ban people from farming. He said there have already been three protests without any solution.
“The soldiers always come to stop people from cultivating on the land and this time they use violence against people. We are all Khmer, and they are soldiers. Why do they shoot people? We just need our land for farming to feed our family,” he said.
The Ministry of Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat, could not be reached for comment.
Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophorn said that the land — previously called “Chamkar Barang”— is state property that has been reserved for a dump site and military base.
He said authorities have already issued land titles to the people in the area, but for the ongoing disputed land, the authorities have not issued any titles.
“Disputes have escalated in recent years as land prices in the area have risen and people have been reselling the land to traders. We have told people to stop farming on that land many times,” he said.
According to Sophorn, the total amount of land is about 280 hectares and villagers are occupying 150 hectares without permission.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of monitoring at rights group Licadho, said that the violence continues to occur in land disputes due to a culture of impunity.
“Previously we noticed that authorities cracked down on people. Sometimes they shoot, causing people death and injuries, but no one was responsible before the law,” he said. “And this continues to happen as they are not facing legal action. When we looked at the images from this morning, we saw there were both soldiers and police.”
“This violation is unacceptable because both police and soldiers are used to protect national interests and people’s interest but why do they use military force to crack down on people? This needs to be investigated and those who shot need to face legal action,” he said.