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Cambodian land dispute escalates as teenager is killed

In Cambodia, security forces have sealed off a village and denied entry to human rights workers after a teenager was shot dead.

Chan Soveth from the Cambodian human rights group Adhoc told the AP news agency on Thursday that soldiers had said they needed to secure the area around Proma village in the eastern province of Kratie.

The military was searching for five people accused of masterminding a clash with security forces that led to the fatal shooting of a teenage girl.

Prominent investigator Soveth also said journalists and human rights workers had been pushed back to an area more than a kilometer away from the village and raised concerns about the safety of the villagers.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen

Prime Minister Hun Sen has suspended land concessions to private companies

A 15-year-old girl was killed on Wednesday as hundreds of villagers confronted military officers and police in the Chhlong district in a long-running land dispute with a private firm.

"The authorities fired shots and a bullet ricocheted and killed a 15-year-old girl," acting Kratie governor Sar Chamrong told the AFP news agency on Wednesday.

The governor said that villagers were wielding axes and bows and arrows as they tried to occupy the contested land.

However, rights groups said armed police and military officers had opened fire on residents who were being forcibly evicted from their homes. Community leaders had rejected demands to vacate their farmland.

The authorities allege the land is government-owned but activists say it has already been awarded to a Russian company and will be developed as a plantation.

For its part, the Interior Ministry issued a statement on Thursday claiming the protesters were an "anarchic group" trying to set up a self-governing zone outside the law.

Ou Virak, the president of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights, said the shooting was "profoundly shocking" and that it showed Cambodia's land crisis had spiraled out of control.

Chut Wutty

Chut Wutty was killed while he was documenting illegal logging

The government has come under increasing criticism this year from the United Nations and campaigners over a series of violent land conflicts, with security forces accused of using live rounds against activists.

Last month, high-profile anti-logging activist Chut Wutty was killed by a military policeman as he was escorting two journalists to western Cambodia.

Surya Subedi, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, urged the authorities to protect the rights of villagers last week.

He underlined reports of companies and subcontractors intimidating residents, damaging burial grounds and using firearms against individuals.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered officials to ensure existing contracts did not impact community land or people's livelihoods, according to local media reports.

act/rc (AFP, AP, dpa)

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