The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from reliable sources that a mixed forces composing of civilian and military police and forestry officials carried out an eviction operation against 317 families in O Cheu Teal, Choam Ksarn district, Preah Vihear province on 15 November 2007. In the course of this forced eviction, two persons were killed and several were injured and arrested. The police force cremated one dead body without allowing his family to take it and another died of gun shot wounds in a hospital. While no investigation has been conducted yet, the affected people are living in fear of being further shootings or arrests. The police have claimed that it was ‘for self-defence’.
According to the information received, at around 8:30am on 15 November 2007 a mixed force composed of civilian police, military police and forestry officials, armed with assault rifles, altogether 283 men, mounted an assault to end the stand off between the public force and 317 families that started on the 10 November. The public force had been spread out to surround the area called O Cheu Teal some 15 km away from Sro-em village, Kantuot commune, Choam Ksarn dictrict in the northern province of Preah Vihear, with a view to evicting those families but the families in the area had been resisting forced eviction by the public force.
On November 15, the force started to put the families’ huts and shelters on fire causing the explosion of a battery which is generally used for electricity. The Deputy-District Governor, Sar Sam Ol, who led that eviction operation with Pol Kham Narei, Deputy-Head of the Regional Forestry Department, and Kao Loung, the district governor of Chuam Kharn, claimed that the villagers resisted the eviction by firing shots in the direction of the public force. His force then fired shots at them “for self-defence”, which caused deaths and injuries.
The public force then made arrests and rounded up hundreds of villagers, young and old alike, men and women, and bundled then into trucks to take them away to Sra-em village and Kor village 20 km away from O Cheu Teal, while all their huts, together with their belongings and food supplies, were burned down.
While forced eviction was operating, Mr. Oeurn En was shot dead on the spot and the public force cremated his corpse there without allowing his family to take it for traditional cremation. Ms. Toeung Chheng died of gun shot wounds in a hospital. It is also reported that seven were seriously injured, ten were arrested and others are facing arrest. It is feared that there might have been other deaths among the missing. The injured suffered broken limbs and were taken to the district and provincial hospitals. The rest have since been seeking shelter in other people’s houses or under trees. They are living in fear of being killed or arrested.
In the commotion, families lost track of each other, children could not find their mothers, and mothers their children. Worse still, when brought to the new areas, they had lost everything and had nothing left to live on. They appealed for relief assistance including clothing, kitchen utensils and foodstuffs to live on.
In 2002 a few families started to clear forests for settlement and cultivation. The number of settlers has grown over the years to 317 families in 2007. Those villagers then formed a community with Man Chan Than, the husband of the dead woman, and his two other brothers as leaders. In June 2006, on behalf of the community, he applied to the provincial authorities for the ownership of those cleared and settled plots of land. Clearing forests for settlement and cultivation was not anything unique in that particular province or in others.
On November 9, a public force were dispatched to O-Cheu Teal to evict those 317 families from the area which the authorities claimed belongs a leisure park and greenbelt next to the highlands on top of which is located the ancient Khmer temple of Preah Vihear next to the Thai border. The temple has special significance to the Cambodian nation after Cambodia won its dispute over its ownership with Thailand at the International Court of Justice. It has become a tourist attraction, however access to it from Thailand is easy while from Cambodia it is very difficult. Lately, the Cambodian government has requested UNESCO to recognize it as a world heritage and has preserved the surrounding areas for this purpose.
According to the leader of those families, Mann Chan Than, now arrested, the authorities wanted to have the area to sell to dishonest merchants. The veracity of this claim has yet to be verified. But the acquisition of forest land in that particular province since access roads opened some years ago has proceeded unabated. Along the roads, large swards of forests either side of those roads have been cleared for private land ownership, and owners of those large plots of land are predominantly senior government or provincial officials, military and civilian. Ownership by businessmen of part of those lands cannot be ruled out.
Those families, armed with knives, sticks and axes, stayed put to resist their forced evacuation, undeterred by the pressure. They felled trees and put them across the road at either end of a bridge to block the road leading to the Temple Preah Vihear, to put pressure on the public force, which aggravated the confrontation.
The Deputy-Provincial Governor claimed that those families were “anarchists” and had been “incited” to clear forests to have land for private ownership. The authorities have offered them alternative site for settlement, but all refused to accept it.
A deputy governor of that province, Meas Savoeun, may have consented to the clearance for settlement. Since then, Mann Chantha, the brother of Mann Chanthan, arrested in the forced eviction, and another man, Mok Meart, arrested on 14 November, on the eve of the fatal incident, were charged with infringement on public property, illicit forest clearance and incitement to people to settle in the concerned area.
The AHRC is of the view that the local authorities had failed to do discharge their duties right from the beginning. They should have begun any action when the number of people clearing that part of the forests was small and just beginning and offered them a commensurate alternative location. They failed to address the application for ownership of those plots of land that had been cleared for settlement and cultivation. They also failed to apply to the due process of the law to stop any further forest clearance in the area and elsewhere in the province.
The authorities used excessive force to evict those 317 families and failed to distinguish between the sound of an explosion and that of gun shots. They used that explosion as an excuse to forcibly carry out the eviction. The killing of at least the two known persons has not been justified on the grounds of self-defence.
Please send your letters to the authorities listed below to call for a thorough public enquiring into that particular forced eviction and the killing of Toeug Chheng and Oeun En and the injury inflicted to other people, urge them to bring the perpetrators to justice, release those arrested, end any pursuit of others, provide all help and assistance to assist them resettlement and cultivation to sustain their livelihood in areas acceptable to them.
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CAMBODIA: Two killed; several injured and arrested by force in operation of forced eviction in Preah Vihear
Name of victims:
1. Mr. Oeurn En, shot dead; his dead body was cremated by the public force without family’s consents
2. Ms. Toeung Chheng, died of gun shot wounds in a hospital
3. Seven villagers were seriously injured; Ten villagers arrested
Name of alleged perpetrators:
1. Sar Sam Ol, Deputy-District Governor
2. Pol Kham Narei, Deputy-Head of the Regional Forestry Department
3. Kao Loung, the district governor of Chuam Kharn
Date of incident: 15 November 2007
Place of incident: O Cheu Teal, some 15 kilo meters away from Sro-em village, Kantuot commune, Choam Ksarn dictrict in the northern province of Preah Vihear
I have learned with horror that, on 15 November 2007, two people had been killed, seven seriously injured, ten arrested, others facing arrest and others continuing to go into hiding in the jungle following a forced eviction of 317 families in an area called O Cheu Teal some 15 km away from Sro-em village, Kantuot commune, Choam Ksarn dictrict in the northern province of Preah Vihear.
A man named Oeurn En was shot dead and the public force cremated the corpse on the spot without allowing his family to take it for traditional cremation. A woman named Toeung Chheng died of gun shot wounds in a hospital. It is feared that there might have been other deaths as many are still missing. The injured suffered broken limbs and were taken to the district and provincial hospitals. The rest have since been seeking shelter in other people houses or in the jungle. They have been dispossessed of all belongings including foodstuffs. They are living in fear of being shot dead or arrested.
Those 317 families were in dire need of food and shelter, land for settlement and cultivation to sustain their livelihood. Their needs are more pressing than those senior government officials and merchants who have also acquired land in the same province. The authorities seem to have acquiesced to such acquisition of land, demonstrated the lack of care for such people as those 317 evicted families.
They have failed to help such families to acquire their own land. They had to clear forests, as others had been doing, to have such land. If the authorities found, as they should have, that the first few families had cleared any preserved forests, they should have stopped them there and then, and offered alternative locations. Bloodshed would have been avoided.
I also notice that the same authorities failed to act on the application by those families for ownership of those plots of land that had been cleared. They also have failed to have recourse to the due process of law to stop any further forest clearance in the area and elsewhere in the province.
What I find horrible is the use of excessive force to evict those 317 families and the public force’s failure to distinguish between the sound of an explosion and that of gun shots. This has led me to believe that the public force used the explosion as a convenient excuse to forcibly carry out the eviction. I hold that the killing of at least the two known persons had not been justified on the grounds of self-defence.
I therefore strongly urge the concerned authorities provide immediate relief assistance to all evictees, and also shelters and land for settlement and cultivation in areas acceptable to them. They should release all those arrested without any charges.
I also strongly urge the Cambodian government to conduct a thorough public enquiry into this particular forced eviction and the killing of Toeug Chheng and Oeun En and the injuries inflicted onto other people. Perpetrators should be brought to justice.
This particular public enquiry should be conducted by an independent body, and I would find it very appropriate if the Prosecutor-General of the Court of Appeal is appointed to lead it. The Prosecutor-General already has power of supervision and control over the police, military police, and forestry officials and also provincial and district governors, and many of these officials had been involved in the forced eviction which caused the fatalities. His findings should be made public and recommendations issued from that public enquiry should be acted upon to avoid any repetition.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:
1. Mr. Samdech Hun Sen
Cabinet of the Prime Minister
No. 38, Russian Federation Street
Tel: +855 2321 9898
Fax: +855 23 36 0666
2. Mr. Sar Kheng
Minister of Interior
No.275 Norodom Blvd., Phnom Penh
Fax/phone: +855 23 721 905 / 23 726 052 / 23 721 190
E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
3. Mr. Ang Vong Vathna
Minster of Justice
No 240, Sothearos Blvd.
Fax: +855 23 36 4119 / 21 6622
4. Mr. Henro Raken
Court of Appeal
No 240, Sothearos Blvd.
Tel: +855 11 86 27 70
Fax: +855 23 21 66 22
5. General Hok Lundy
National Police Commissioner
General-Commisariat of National Police
Tel/Fax: +855-23-21 65 85/22 09 52
6. Ms Margo Picken
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Cambodia
N 10, Street 302
Sangkat Boeng Keng Kang I
Khan Chamcar Mon
Tel: +855-23-987 671 / 987 672, 993 590 / 993 591 or +855 23 216 342
Fax: +855-23-212 579, 213 587
7. Mr. Douglas Gardner
UNDP resident Representative in Cambodia
Resident Coordinator of United Nations/ UNRC
NX 53, Pasteur Street, Boeung Keng Kang I,
Chamkar Mon, Phnom Penh,
Cambodia (P.O.Box 877)
Fax: +855-23 216257/721 042/216 863/210 214
8. Prof. Yash Ghai
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for human rights in Cambodia
Attn: Ms. Afarin Shahidzadeh
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10
Tel: +41 22 91 79214
Fax: +41 22 91 79018 (ATTENTION: SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE CAMBODIA)
9. Professor Philip Alston
Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions
1211 Geneva 10
Tel: +41 22 917 9155
Fax: +41 22 917 9006 (ATTN: SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR EXECUTIONS)
10. Mr. Miloon Kothari
Special Rapporteur on adequate housing
CH-1211, Geneva 10
Tel: +41 22 917 9265
Fax: +41 22 917 9010 (ATTENTION: SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ADEQUATE HOUSING)
11. Ms. Leila Zerrougui
Working Group on arbitrary detention
1211 Geneva 10
Fax: +41 22 917 9006 (ATTENTION: WORKING GROUP ARBITRARY DETENTION)
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (firstname.lastname@example.org)