Three local fishermen were shot dead by commercial fishermen in Sre Ambel
district, Koh Kong province, the latest in a string of such killings. NGOs
deplored the October 25 attack as another in a long line of violent encounters
between locals and commercial trawlers from Stung Hao district over local
Three fishermen from Chroy Svay commune survived the
attack, although one sustained serious bullet wounds. The three survivors were
taken to Stung Hao district, Kampong Som, and charged with attempted robbery of
the commercial trawler. The prosecutor of the Sihanoukville court, Mam Mith,
confirmed the three men were jailed on October 28.
None of the commercial
fishermen has been charged.
The Sre Ambel project manager with
development NGO American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) said conflicts over
fishing in the area were both serious and frequent. Doung Vuthy added that
villagers were often unfairly punished.
"It has become normal, because
the police do not investigate whether people are robbers or not," said Vuthy.
"They just arrest the villagers and allow the commercial fishermen to go
The district police chief of Sre Ambel, Nhem Dara, said officers
from his district and Stung Hao were investigating the murders and would find
the culprits. He blamed both sides for "mistakes": one of robbery, the other of
"The crime happened at sea, so we cannot [yet] define who is the
murderer," said Dara, adding that the killers had escaped after the shooting.
"The trawler [crew] could be charged for murder and using illegal
AFSC's Vuthy said that illegal fishing by commercial trawlers
from Stung Hao regularly destroyed local villagers' nets and property.
Sre Ambel's fisheries chief, Ung Sophon, agreed.
"The people of
the two districts always bear malice against each other," he said. "The Stung
Hao people always break the [local] people's nets, so when they get angry [the
locals] rob shrimp and crab from them."
Sophon blamed the latest incident
on robbery. He said the six men had gone to steal shrimps from the commercial
boat, causing the boat's owner to open fire.
However it seems highly
likely the commercial trawler was fishing illegally. Fisheries law makes it
illegal for commercial boats to fish in water less than 20 meters in depth, such
as that off Sre Ambel.
Fisheries chief Sophon confirmed such practices
were common, and said several dozen boats from Stung Hao fished illegally in the
district's shallow waters every night.
Mak Sithirith, the coordinator of
the Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT), a local NGO, said the ongoing
conflict in Sre Ambel "needs strong intervention by the
"Those who kill people are never found," he said. "The
victims are killed and then accused of robbing people."
Fisheries Nao Thouk said the government was drafting a subdecree on marine
fisheries to create community fisheries in coastal areas. The law should be
finished "sometime next year" and ought to solve some of the problems
encountered by subsistence fishermen in public coastal waters, such as those
near Sre Ambel.
The feud off Koh Kong has been simmering for more than a
decade. One fisheries official said more than 20 people had been killed in Chroy
Svay commune alone since 1991.
In June this year two Sre Ambel district fishermen were shot dead by
commercial fishermen. In March 2001 two others were killed by Stung Hao
In both cases the police blamed the local fishermen for trying
to rob the commercial vessels. AFSC's Vuthy said police generally arrested the
subsistence fishermen, charged them with robbery without bothering to
investigate, then extorted money.
"The last time it happened the police
did not investigate the problem," he said. "They arrested the fisherman who was
not killed and made him pay a bribe to get released."