4 Cambodians shot in land protest

PHNOM PENH – Private guards shot and wounded at least four people today during a land dispute in Cambodia, witnesses and a provincial official said.

Kratie province Gov. Kham Phoeun said he ordered police to investigate guards armed with AK-47 assault rifles who shot at about 100 villages who were trying to stop bulldozers from destroying their cassava plantation.

The number of protesters increased to about 300 after the shooting, and they also blocked the highway, demanding that the shooters be arrested, said Ms Neth Ratana, a wounded protester interviewed by telephone.

Officials from the landholding company could not immediately be reached for comment.

Such land disputes are not unusual in Cambodia, and have provoked protests partly because of the perception that officials are making corrupt deals at the expense of poor people.

Mr Am Sam Ath of the human rights group Licadho said nearly 20,000 people were victimised by land disputes last year, and that the issue is worsening as land prices rise.

“I am afraid that this dispute could get bigger from day to day and may affect the country’s stability if the government doesn’t take urgent action to solve the problem,” he said.

Ms Neth Ratana, 23, said about 10 security guards standing on trucks began shooting at protesters when they surrounded the excavating equipment and forced the drivers to stop clearing the land.

She said she was slightly wounded on her knee, and that four other protesters were wounded badly enough to be hospitalised.

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