Police in Cambodia’s Tbong Khmum province on Friday arrested a villager accused of injuring a Chinese worker and his translator in a long running land dispute.
The villager, Phon Chhoeun, however says he merely was defending himself from an attack by the Chinese man, whose company he accused of encroaching on village land in violation of terms of a 2011 transaction in the central Mekong River highlands province.
“They had many arguments in the past, but now he committed a crime,” said Hong Kim Hoeun, police chief of Tbong Khmum’s Dambae district. He told RFA’s Khmer Service the Chinese worker was vomiting blood after the incident and that Phon Chhoeun would be prosecuted.The worker's name was not released.
Phon Chhoeun, however, disputed that account. He said he was inspecting village land adjacent to the Chinese investor’s Hameniven Investment land concession to see whether the company encroached on his land, which is at the center of a four-year dispute.
“They assaulted me but they filed complaint against me. It is very unjust,” Phon Chhoeun told RFA, adding that he lost several teeth in a scuffle that began when the Chinese worker tried to strangle him.
He said that he will file a counter lawsuit against the Chinese worker.
The villagers in Dambae district have been at odds with Hameniven Investment over 600 hectares of flooded land after they rejected a request from local authorities that they sell all of the land to the Chinese firm. The villagers sold Hameniven 300 hectares in 2011 and kept the rest for cultivation, but they say the Chinese company continues to encroach on the land they retained.
Provincial coordinator Neang Sowath of the NGO Adhoc said authorities didn’t have enough evidence to arrest Phon Chhoeun and should provide justice to both sides of the dispute after conducting a thorough investigation.
“The prosecution can’t charge them. The prosecutor can’t rely on only the police report because police were not there,” he told RFA.
Local police said they were seeking more witnesses.
Reported by Saut Sok Pratna for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Paul Eckert.