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Villagers meet with Ministry of Mines and Energy officials at resident Mut Mum’s home in June.
Villagers meet with Ministry of Mines and Energy officials at resident Mut Mum’s home in June. Yesenia Amaro

Local interrogated over sand dredging meetings at her house

A resident of Kandal province’s Koh Kor village who had offered her house as a gathering place for villagers protesting nearby sand dredging was interrogated by a local official yesterday, with two more villagers set to be questioned today.

The interrogation and summonses come a day after an activist with environmental NGO Mother Nature, Hun Vannak, was arrested and questioned for several hours for flying a drone without permission and for his activism, which police allegedly insisted could “put security at risk”.

Vannak said yesterday that villager Mut Mum was questioned in the morning, with two more summonses – for residents Hem Hoeun and Ly Leab – delivered yesterday evening. The two are scheduled to appear at 8:30am and 2:30pm, respectively, at the Sa’ang District Hall, according to the summonses.

“As a result, people are really scared now,” Vannak said. “What they do now is to intimidate the people.”

Mum, 42 – who works at the district’s rural development office – had been protesting the sand dredging because her house is among those threatened by riverbank collapses on the Tonle Bassac river – some of which have already damaged homes, and which residents attribute to the dredging.

She confirmed she had been questioned at the district hall yesterday about “incidents relating to the sand extraction” in her village in Sa’ang district. Mum said she was questioned by Deputy District Governor Chy Kimhay for about an hour.

“He told me to stop the gatherings at my house,” she said. “He questioned me about my permission to allow Mother Nature activists to stay at my house. I am a district official. Therefore, he [Kimhay] said that I am an official and it is wrong for me to [do] that.”

The Law on the General Status of Civil Servants in Cambodia restricts civil servants from undertaking “an activity that undermines the honour and integrity of their position”, but does not define what that entails.

However, Mut said even if she obeyed the request, her husband, Ly Hout, could still allow people, including activists, to gather at their home.

“I’m a normal official. I am not scared if they fire me,” she said. “I want to protect my house as well since I am afraid that my house will fall into the river, and I am annoyed by the noise from the sand [dredging]. We have nearly become deaf now.”

Nhem Vandin, Sa’ang district governor, said authorities invited Mut for “interrogation”, but declined to comment further.

Sorn Ramana, a project coordinator at the Cambodia Center for Human Rights, said there was no legal basis for authorities to tell Mum not to allow gatherings at her residence. “The Cambodian authorities should focus their resources on solving the endemic environmental and land issues that are pushing so many ordinary Cambodians into activism – rather than trying to quash that activism through intimidation and heavy-handed policing.”

Vannak said villagers will gather again today to demand solutions, though some were afraid to join.

Yos Monirath, spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, maintained there was no dredging in the areas that had suffered bank collapse, and said that a company was refilling certain eroded areas, but he didn’t recall the specific location.

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