UPDATED — Military police arrested a former general in the prime minister’s bodyguard unit and nine others who clashed with an investment company over land in a dispute-ridden area of Preah Sihanouk province, local officials said.
Four of the 10 people, including former bodyguard unit deputy chief of staff Kuy Srun, were sent to the court and charged, court spokesperson Lim Bunheng said on Friday morning.
Srun, Hom Vann and Thoeun Sothoun were charged with intentional violence, which carries a prison sentence of one to three years, while Seang Vanny was charged with making a death threat. If convicted, Vanny faces six months to two years in prison.
Srun was also charged with unlawful possession of a weapon, punishable by up to two years in prison.
The clash earlier this week, in Prey Nob district’s Bit Traing commune, followed a court order to halt constructions and sales on land claimed by both the 10 people and Fu Hai Investment, said commune chief Meach Chan.
Provincial military police arrested the 10 people, including Srun, who lived about 200 meters from the disputed land, he said. They had been marking off sections of the land, he said.
“The court came down to halt and freeze transfers and sales … and digging the earth or building fences — they were banned temporarily,” Chan said, and referred further questions to military police.
Provincial military police chief Heng Bunty declined to comment.
A nearby villager, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions, said there had been violence between the two parties on Tuesday, and about 20 vehicles carrying police, military police and soldiers came to arrest the 10 people.
General Hing Bun Hieng, head of the bodyguard unit, said Srun was discharged from the unit two years ago.
“He caused many problems,” Bun Hieng said. “He was making land deals. … We needed to fire him. We couldn’t keep him, as a lazy official.”
Bun Hieng added that the Preah Sihanouk dispute was “nothing involved with me.”
“The one who causes problems needs to face consequences under the law. There’s no unit to protect you,” he said.
A man who answered a listed number for Fu Hai on Thursday said he would look into the details of the incident and call back, but had yet to do so as of Friday morning.
In early December, 25 hectares of state forest land in Bit Traing’s Kokir village was privatized and handed to Fu Hai in a government decree.
In 2019, a man was shot in the back in the same village as he watched a clash between hundreds of land protesters and police, military police and soldiers. He said he was hit after authorities fired 20 warning shots into the air, with protesters contesting a Supreme Court order handing land to the wife of business tycoon Sy Kong Triv.
National military police spokesperson Eng Hy referred questions to the provincial prosecutor on Thursday. Provincial spokesperson Kheang Phearum would only say that authorities were questioning the 10 suspects.
Meanwhile, in December 2020, the deputy head of the military’s elite Brigade 70, Phoeun Phalla, was put under investigation following eight arrests in a violent land conflict in a neighboring commune, O’Oknha Heng, also in Prey Nob district.
Updated at 12:10 p.m. with comments from court spokesperson Lim Bunheng.
Additional reporting by Khut Sokhun