Villagers in northeastern Cambodia’s Stung Treng province on Friday called for an investigation into a group of security guards who shot at them with rifles after they requested permission to cut down trees in a concession area to use for building homes.
The residents of Sre Ko commune, in Stung Treng’s Sesan district, told RFA’s Khmer Service that on Oct. 20, four villagers asked for permission from the manager of An Marady Co. to cut trees on the firm’s land concession in nearby Siv Guech when they were confronted by the armed security guards.
Mark Uk, who was among the four villagers that were requesting to cut the trees for corner posts to build their homes, said the guards used AK47 rifles and pistols to threaten them and demanded 200,000 riels (U.S. $50) to let them return home.
When the villagers explained that they did not have enough money to pay them, he said, one of the guards cursed at them, hit Mark Uk with his pistol and fired it close to his head.
“When they approached me, they hit me in the face very hard,” he said.
“I held my axe ready to protect myself, fearing that they would try to hit me again. They threatened to fire at me. I started to walk away and they fired in front of me … and then they confiscated one of my chainsaws [before letting us go].”
Representatives of An Marady could not be reached for comment about the incident.
Sre Ko commune chief Seak Mekong acknowledged that the villagers had no right to ask to cut trees on An Marady’s concession, but said communal authorities plan to file a complaint to the head of Sesan district calling for an investigation into the security guards’ actions.
“The ministry that provides village-level or province-level licenses to companies should also be responsible for controlling their actions,” he said.
“Creating problems and threatening people in order to demand money is illegal.”
He added that other villagers who had been caught collecting forest products or cutting trees on An Marady’s concession had also complained of guards demanding as much as U.S. $200 for their release or threatening to hand their equipment over to forestry officials if they were not compensated.
Ho Sam Ol, a representative of local rights group Adhoc, called the act of firing at the villagers “lawless” and “a serious case of human rights abuse.”
He said Adhoc plans to conduct an independent investigation and will send a letter demanding that prosecutors also conduct a probe into the incident, adding that failing to do so would cause local residents to lose trust in the legal system.
“If [the security guards] were police officers or members of the military, they would be in the wrong, but they are civilians, so using weapons is illegal,” he said.
“Even though the villagers were wrong, we have legal procedures to solve these matters. For example, if they enter the concession to cut trees, we will confront and educate them.”
Adhoc said it had documented at least four instances of death threats made by security guards against Sre Ko villagers so far this year.
Rights groups have highlighted a culture of impunity in Cambodia, where a number of killings and attacks, including those of journalists and rights campaigners, have not been thoroughly investigated or their perpetrators brought to justice.
Reported by Men Chanthy for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Pagnawath Khun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.