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Fishermen to be freed

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Two days after extending indefinitely a ban on commercial fishing in Tonle Sap Lake, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday called for the release of all prisoners detained during the government crackdown, officials close to the premier said yesterday.

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Deputy Prime Minister Yim Chhayli told the Post yesterday the premier had made the statement at a Council of Ministers meeting.

According to Yim Chhayli, Hun Sen said the release of the prisoners would allow them to return to their families and earn a decent living.

The premier was also adamant that the pardon exclude fishermen who had illegally logged parts of flooded forest areas in order to use the timber to artificially create an environment that would attract fish, Yim Chhayli said.

“The fishermen who are involved in illegal logging of flooded forest cannot be set free because they cut the forest to possess the land by their own,” Yim Chhayli said.

It was unclear how many prisoners would be affected by Hun Sen’s mandate.

Hy Sophea, secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, estimated 19 were imprisoned in Siem Reap province, but failed to provide country-wide numbers.

Nao Thourk, chief of fisheries administration at the Ministry of Agriculture, simply said officials had arrested “many” fishermen, without providing exact figures.

Tonle Sap Authority spokesman Chan Yutha was also vague, saying that “at least 10” fishermen had been arrested.

Officials also failed to provide a specific timeline for the release beyond saying that it would happen “soon”.

Hy Sophea said the prison release would follow appropriate legal procedures, including trials for detainees.

After those trials, he said, the Ministry of Justice would ask King Norodom Sihamoni to pardon the convicted men, per Cambodian law.

To fulfil Hun Sen’s request, Siem Reap authorities met yesterday with the detained fishermen to discuss the mandate.

CPP lawmaker Sieng Nam told the prisoners they would be released “in the near future”.

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