Three of five land dispute victims, representing 150 families in Banteay Meanchey province’s Slakram commune, on Tuesday sued provincial governor Um Reatrey and five others for manslaughter, and the use of intentional violence against them while they were detained for protesting outside the provincial hall last year.
The complaint was filed after Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday ordered the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces deputy commander-in-chief Sao Sokha to open an investigation into the alleged death from torture of one of the five detained in a land dispute from December 28-31.
Tuy Sros, a representative for land disputants in Chrey Village in O’Chrov district’s Changha commune, died on January 1 on the way to a hospital after authorities detained him at the provincial prison.
The plaintiffs were identified as Nouv Noeun, An Saron, and Ham Kiri.
The five others sued with Reatrey are the vice-presidents of the provincial Chamber of Commerce, Chark Puok and Yoeung Kong; the director of the provincial Forestry Administration, Chea Phally; the director of the provincial prison, Proem Saly; and the commander of the provincial Military Police, Born Bin – who allegedly colluded in torturing the victims.
The complaint stated that from December 26-27, Reatrey led Military Police forces to bulldoze the villagers’ shelters.
This led to a two-day protest of 150 families and the five representatives in front of the provincial hall.
“We agreed to protest in front of the provincial hall so the governor would address [the land dispute]. Instead, he ordered the provincial Military Police to arrest the five of us, saying we were the ringleaders of the land grab at the Tapen 2 Forest Restoration and Broadcast Station in O’Chrov and Svay Chek districts.
“They violently and severely tortured Tuy Sros until he died,” the complaint said.
It said the victims of the torture that ensued are now in need of serious medical attention. Some of the victims’ teeth were broken while the others sustained trauma to their livers and lungs. As such, the victims are demanding $200,000 in compensation.
One of the plaintiffs, Noeurn, 62, said the complaint was filed to urge the court to seek the truth.
“The complaint was filed to seek justice in the land dispute. They wrongly accused and tortured us,” he said.
Reatrey declined to comment on Thursday, saying he only acted on a complaint by landowners who sued the families for encroaching on their property.
“The dispute centred on the grabbing of state and private lands. So, as the authorities, we had to intervene on behalf of the landowners who filed the complaint.
“Dissatisfied, the villagers protested even though they registered their thumbprints acknowledging that they had cleared and occupied land owned by others.
“We are obligated to maintain public order and security. We want to coordinate with them but they refuse to do so.
“We also failed to prevent the forces from torturing the victims. A press release regarding the case had already been released,” he said.
Banteay Meanchey provincial court spokesman Sok Keo Bandith could not be reached for comment on Thursday.