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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Activist ‘in too deep’

Activist ‘in too deep’

A senior ruling Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker has issued a thinly veiled threat of deportation to the founder of a local environmental campaign group, promising an investigation into the foreign national’s activities.

Chheang Vun, a CPP lawmaker and spokesman for the National Assembly, indicated in a speech yesterday that Alex Gonzalez-Davidson of NGO Mother Nature, which campaigns against the construction of the Stung Cheay Areng Dam in Koh Kong province, had been “delving too deep into Cambodian politics” which he “could not let ... happen anymore”.

Vun also said that a large number of members of parliament had grown concerned about Gonzalez-Davidson’s role in opposing the dam, though he did not name the Mother Nature founder.

“Recently, a large amount of parliament members have become concerned about a foreigner’s actions. He has been delving too deep into Cambodian politics. I am working with the authorities to examine him and his methods of working in Cambodia,” he said.

“He has been working against the local authorities and incited Cambodian people to work against the authorities. I cannot let this happen anymore. As head of the fifth committee of the National Assembly, I myself will conduct an investigation into him to find out more about what he is trying to do.”

Despite not naming Gonzalez-Davidson, Vun said that the foreign national in question had been detained by police. Several Mother Nature representatives, including Gonzalez-Davidson, and activists were briefly detained by the authorities in Koh Kong town on September 15.

The activists were released after police said they signed a “contract” that stated they would stop blocking access to the proposed dam site.

Mother Nature activists and locals have sporadically blocked an access road and stopped officials and representatives of Sinohydro Resources, contracted to oversee the dam’s construction, from entering the area.

“If I find that he did anything against what he pledged to the Ministry of Interior, I will request that the Immigration Department at the ministry arrest him and send him back to his home country ... we will not keep this type of person,” Vun said yesterday.

Gonzalez-Davidson is a Spanish national.

“I think our laws are too lax allowing this foreigner to work in a huge area by saying that he is trying to protect Cambodians. It’s just an excuse,” Vun added.

Gonzalez-Davidson, however, dismissed the threat of an “investigation” into Mother Nature. “As I’ve said before, I don’t know who he’s talking about, because I consider myself Cambodian,” he said. “If he’s talking about revoking Mother Nature’s licence, it would be disastrous [for the authorities], because it would make us stronger than ever.”

“We thank Chheang Vun for his helpful comments,” he went on to say.

Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Pol Ham, who recently visited Koh Kong and met with Mother Nature representatives, said that the authorities should not discriminate against foreign nationals involved in campaigning work in Cambodia.

“I personally welcome both Cambodians and foreigners who work in Cambodia to develop and maintain nature,” he said. “To me, Alex is a very strong activist . . . there are a number of foreigners I work with and they have helped me carry out work on the environment in the past.”

Mother Nature member Sim Samnang said yesterday that the group would not bow to pressure from the authorities. “Even though we receive threats, we maintain our goals to protect nature, the environment and the forest,” he said.

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