Villagers allegedly shot dead a plantation’s security guard with a homemade gun this week amid an escalating dispute that has seen houses burned to the ground in Kampot province.
World Tristar security guards Nuon Pheaktra, a 27-year-old from Svay Rieng province, was killed, while Phorn Da, 31, from Pursat, was injured during the clash on Wednesday, according to authorities.
Oum Samith, a resident of Prey Peay village in Chhuk district’s Trapaing Phlaing commune, said about 200 families moved into empty plantation land about three months ago, building small houses and planting crops on the company’s land.
Company security guards have been dismantling and burning down the houses, repeatedly clashing with the families, Samith said.
“The company built up its forces to push them out. They confronted [the families] and chased them and set fire to their houses. The people became angry and beat up the security guards,” Samith said.
Some security guards were injured in October, after which they returned with greater force, he said.
Commune police chief Hem Khmny said the spark on Wednesday was the alleged theft of security guards’ motorbikes.
Around 9 a.m., security guards approached the area with two police officers to investigate the theft. They came in a police car and a company pickup truck, but as they arrived villagers sprung from the forest and ambushed them, he said.
“When the drivers and passengers reached the location, they started shooting at us,” Khmny said. “They also shot the police car. They could not do anything since they were in the car.”
Pheaktra was shot and killed, with a bullet entering one side of his chest and exiting the other, while Da was rushed to a hospital in Phnom Penh, he said.
“We have not found the perpetrators yet because this location was in the forest so it is difficult to find them,” he said. “We don’t dare to go in there with just two or three people.”
Khmny added that the new families were from Kampong Speu, Svay Rieng, Phnom Penh and other provinces.
Commune chief Thav Vannareth said the two security guards who were shot had been riding the back of the pickup truck.
“They targeted their car,” Vannareth said, adding that it was the third clash in recent months.
“This is the most serious one,” he said. “This time they shot without negotiating or arguing. … It is very brutal. We don’t know why.”
Provincial police chief Mao Chanmathurith said the provincial force intervened after receiving the information, rushing to the scene and confiscating two handguns as people fled.
Chanmathurith said there were two main perpetrators, though they had already escaped.
“There are two ringleaders, but we do not know the exact number of participants in the attack,” he said.
World Tristar, a Cambodian plantation, was granted 9,800 hectares of land in 2005. Chhuk district has seen previous violence and evictions due to land concessions, including in 2017 when military police and private security guards forcibly burned down 42 homes, sparking violence.