Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday said he had ordered Military Police commander Sao Sokha to open an investigation into the alleged death from torture of one of five people detained over a land dispute in Banteay Meanchey province on January 1.

The prime minister was speaking at the 4th media correspondents’ gala on Tuesday evening at the Koh Pich Convention and Exhibition Centre.

“A case has emerged, and I have ordered Keo Ramy [the head of the government’s human rights body] and Sao Sokha to form a committee to immediately investigate an alleged death from torture in Banteay Meanchey province. If this is true, those responsible must be arrested and brought to justice,” Hun Sen said.

Tuy Sros, a representative for land disputants in Chrey Village in O’Chrov district’s Changha commune, died on January 1, reportedly after Military Police officials in Banteay Meanchey province detained him at the station from December 28-31.

The victim died on January 1 on the way to a hospital for treatment after being remanded at the provincial prison for a day, the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons spokesman Nuth Savna said.

Sokha, who is also deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), said the committee was set up on Monday.

“The committee is tasked with investigating what happened at the Banteay Meanchey provincial Military police station. The committee will inspect the practices of the provincial head of the Military Police regarding the execution of its role and duties, as well as whether it had adhered to the rules of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces,” he said.

The National Committee Against Torture had also begun an investigation to seek justice for the victim.

National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy said on Wednesday that the National Military Police committee had arrived in the province on Monday to conduct its probe. “When it is concluded, we will make a report,” Hy said.

One of those involved in the land dispute said he and four other people similarly involved in the dispute had been tortured after holding a protest.

Nouv Noeun, 62, said on Wednesday that he and two other victims had reported provincial Military Police commander Born Bin and another official to the local court for intentional violence and torture, which had resulted in Sros’ death.

He and four others locked in the dispute had protested outside the provincial hall on December 28 after having not received a resolution from authorities.

Some 40 provincial military policemen then turned up, he said, and arrested and beat them. They were driven to the provincial Military Police headquarters, where they were then tortured.

“We were peacefully protesting the land dispute. We had with us only parcels of rice and drinking water as we demanded compensation. At around 1 pm, the Military Police arrived and arrested us.

“They pushed the five of us into a car, beating and kicking us in the car and at the police station. It was so painful, we nearly died.

“They hit me until my teeth broke . . . I am still suffering. I have high blood pressure and my body shakes. I don’t know where to get treatment because I am so poor. I have no money,” Noeun said.

Sam Chankea, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said while it was good that Hun Sen had intervened in the case, authorities should be enforcing the law transparently without having to be ordered to do so by the prime minister.

“The victims are still demanding justice. Next time, the sub-national authorities should not wait until the prime minister [orders] them to take action. If there hadn’t been intervention [from the prime minister], the case would have remained dormant.

“Four of the victims survived, but they are now so afraid that they will never do anything again after being tortured at the provincial military police headquarters,” Chankea said.

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