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Activists pressured on return

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Villagers are confronted by police during a protest at the CRCK rubber company in Prey Lang forest, in Kampong Thom, last week.

After spending the past week roaming Prey Lang forest in search of illegal logging activity, villagers from Kampong Thom’s Sandan district had a disconcerting homecoming Saturday, as local authorities awaited them with requests for thumbprints and background information, villagers told the Post yesterday.

The villagers were among a group of 300 from provinces overlapped by the endangered forest who had walked from their homes in a protest that culminated with a confrontation at rubber company CRCK on Thursday.

Sim Sean, a representative of Sandan district who took part in the protest, said that when villagers arrived home, they were confronted by police, military police, the district governor and commune chief, who demanded they write down background information about themselves.

“We did not agree to write down our background for them, so now we are worried about our safety,” he said.

He also questioned why officials would have any need of their biographical information or thumbprints, evincing fears that it was simply a step toward legal action. “We are worried that they will [use] the court system to arrest us and put us in prison, so that’s why they need our background and thumbprints,” Sim Sean said.

Roeun Sopheap, a villager from Sandan district, said that the commune chief had gone to villagers’ homes demanding to know the names of the organizers of last week’s march, adding that villagers had refused requests for thumbprints.

“We did not agree to put our thumbprints, even though they threatened to shoot us,” he said. “If the situation becomes worse than this, I will flee home for safety,” he said.

Pang Heng, Sandan commune chief, said that while he did go to villagers’ homes with the deputy district governor, he did not force villagers to provide their thumbprints. He said he simply was trying to determine which villagers were involved in the protest so he could invite them to a meeting to discuss the issue.

“I did not threaten the villagers. I told them that if the company’s development was affecting them, then please file a complaint to us,” he said.

Responding to the charges of threatened violence, Sandan district police chief Oung Moly said that he did not order his officers to intimidate villagers and pledged to investigate. “I will conduct research into who threatened villagers, and then I will take measures according to the law,” he said.

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