A Cambodian People’s Party deputy village chief was the driving force behind a petition to block the opposition from building a broadcasting tower in Kandal province, residents living near the site said yesterday, with some admitting they wanted a CNRP TV station but felt pressured to endorse the complaint.
The Cambodian National Rescue Party last week announced it had been forced to find a new site to erect an antenna for its planned Sun TV station, after local authorities officially blocked the structure in Doeum Mean commune’s Stung Chrov village.
Heng Theam, Takhmao’s town governor, said the decision was made because 21 people living near the site had submitted a complaint expressing concerns that the antenna would emit radiation and damage their health.
In interviews yesterday, however, half a dozen Stung Chrov residents said CPP deputy village chief Chhoun Bunthin led efforts to mobilise opposition to the tower.
Several complainants who spoke to the Post said they felt pressure to go along with the petition, though some noted that they also feared potential health impacts as rumours circulated around the village – at times with the help of Bunthin – that the tower would bring radiation, lightning strikes and diving property values.
“I was sceptical at first about the rumours, but after they started spreading from one to another, I thought it was true,” said An Seak, 55, whose property backs onto the CNRP plot.
“The [deputy village chief] asked whether I agreed with it. He said that if they put it up, it will affect our health. On that day I gave my thumbprint.”
Mon Nguon, a 52-year-old coffee and vegetable trader who lives on another side of the land, told a similar story.
“The deputy village chief . . . lives close to my home – the information came from him. He said that when there is an antenna there will be radiation and it will affect the pregnant women, and he asked me to give a thumbprint,” said Nguon.
“He came to my house about two months ago in the morning . . . I did not want to give my thumbprint, but I felt I had to.
“After I gave my thumbprint, I noticed that other people have antennas on top of their houses in Takhmao. I saw it was okay.”
A private company affiliated with the CNRP was awarded a broadcasting licence in 2014 as part of a deal to end the political stalemate following the 2013 elections.
The party has long been excluded from the television spectrum – which is dominated by ruling party-aligned stations – and is hoping to get a channel up and running before commune elections next year.
Seak, the complainant, said that she too wanted to see this happen.
“We do not want to hear only one side,” she said.
“We regret that it cannot be built. If there was no effect, we would not give a thumb print.”
After being told of residents’ accounts, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann yesterday reiterated a previous statement that authorities’ decision to block the tower was politically motivated.
“This is the truth from the grassroots,” he said. “Let the people judge who is right and who is wrong, and who uses politics to disturb the process of setting up the tower for Sun TV.”
Yesterday trader Pon Bopha, 48, whose family also gave a thumbprint at Bunthin’s request, agreed with that assessment.
“[My daughter gave her] thumbprint because the CPP asked for it . . . All of the people along the road have given their thumbprints . . . It is politics,” she said, adding she did not fear any health impacts from the tower.
“If there was a TV antenna [nearby] we might get a clearer picture.”
Another resident, who declined to be named, said he was not approached for a thumbprint because the village leadership believed he was an opposition supporter.
“It is mostly about politics. This is the life of the CNRP TV – [the CPP] worry that if they have a TV station many people will wake up,” said the man, who also lives close to the opposition’s plot.
However speaking at his open-front store yesterday, Bunthin, the deputy village chief, rejected claims he was working in his party’s interests, saying that he did not initiate the complaint and was simply acting in line with villagers’ concerns.
“There was no forcing,” Bunthin said. “I am a CPP member but this has nothing to do with the CPP.”
The local commune chief, Ek Samnang, yesterday seconded that claim.
“This was the will of the people; it was not the authorities’ idea,” he said.
Ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan also denied villagers were pressured.
“No one threatened them. They talk like they are not responsible; they should not blame others when they give thumbprints,” he said.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency website reports that international research suggests “there are no established heath effects” linked to broadcast tower emissions.
But Chan Thoeun, another trader next to the site, said yesterday that she thumbprinted the complaint after hearing rumours that the tower would make women sterile.
When told that research suggested otherwise, she said it did not change the “simple” truth that the opposition doesn’t wield as much clout as their ruling party counterparts.
“If the CPP wanted to do it, they could do it,” she said. “Many here are members of the CPP.”