Hun Sen: Dismiss Koki clash officials if they abused power

(Phnom Penh) : Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the ministries of Interior and National Defence to investigate senior military and provincial officials in Preah Sihanouk province over their alleged involvement in clashes between members of the security forces and villagers.

The officials in question include a military commander and a deputy provincial governor after the implementation of a Supreme Court ruling over a long-running land dispute turned violent.

The prime minster ordered the ministries to dismiss the two unidentified officials if they are found to have abused their power.

The case involves a Supreme Court ruling in 2017, judging that ownership of a disputed area measuring 71ha in Koki village in Prey Nop district’s Bit Traing commune be returned to the original nine families after it been bought and sold since 1993.

As payment was not made in full, the families ended the sale and continued to own the land, the court ruled. The main cause of the confrontation on January 24 was a 26ha area that remained under dispute.

A man was shot, sustaining serious injuries, during the clashes between nearly 300 villagers and 200 security personnel when residents attempted to stop authorities entering the land.

During a meeting of the Supreme Consultation Forum at the Peace Palace on Thursday, Hun Sen said the court’s ruling ordering the demarcation of the land was supposed to be implemented by the judicial police and not the armed forces.

Ministry of National Defence spokesman General Chhum Socheat said the ministry is probing the military commander’s involvement.

“We are working and implementing the order of Samdech [Hun Sen],” he said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan told a local reporter on Thursday that the prime minister had spent nearly the entire meeting expressing his frustration with the two officials.

“Hun Sen talked a lot about the land dispute. He pointed out irregularities as to why they sent armed soldiers out of their base to resolve the issue,” he said.

He continued that the violent crackdown on civilians needed to be investigated to ascertain the circumstances.

“Why does the deputy provincial governor not know whether the land is state land or private land? Why did they need to send armed soldiers in because it is a problem for justice officials? Why have the Military Police been sent to the site?” he quoted the prime minister as saying.

Khmer Rise Party leader Sok Sovann Vathana Sabung, in attendance at the meeting, wrote on Facebook that his party was disappointed with the incident of police violence in the land dispute.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak on Thursday said the ministry “supports Hun Sen’s statement” and will follow the prime minister’s orders immediately.