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Mondulkiri activists subject to restrictions, threats: NGOs

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Rights workers helping ethnic Phnong communities displaced by a rubber plantation claim they were denied access to a local ceremony last week

Photo by: BILL HEROD

Phnong villagers beat gongs during a ceremony in Bou Sra commune Thursday.

HUMAN rights NGOs working in Mondulkiri province say they have been subjected to restrictions of movement by local authorities and fear they may face charges of incitement for helping ethnic Phnong communities in Bou Sra commune in their fight with a local rubber plantation.

Sam Sarin, provincial investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said that police prevented rights workers from attending a traditional ceremony held by Phnong ethnic villagers in Bou Sra commune's Pouteut village Thursday.

The villagers gathered to slaughter a buffalo and curse a French-Cambodian rubber plantation that they claim has taken their land.

"Residents claim that the land belongs to them, but we were not allowed to travel to the location where the residents held the ceremony," he said.

"We were then allowed to join the ceremony after protesting [to police], but we were accompanied by about 15 to 20 armed police patrolling for the company."

The 10,000-hectare plantation, a joint venture between the Khaou Chuly Company and French rubber giant Socfin, began clearing land late last year, with local communities claiming the loss of traditional rotational farmland.

Sam Sarin said local NGO workers were now "very concerned" for their personal security after educating local communities about their legal rights.

"Our activities are always interrupted and threatened by local authorities when they see our team getting too close to the residents," he said.

"Our team try to help them understand about their rights in relation to their land dispute, but [officials] are dissatisfied and find ways to the intimidate residents and our staff."

Em Veasna, the provincial director for the NGO Human Rights Vigilance of Cambodia, said the Mondulkiri police did not have the right to block access to the public road leading to the area where the ceremony was held.

"The [authorities'] act contradicts constitutional law and violates citizens' rights," he said.

"We were warned directly and indirectly by local authorities not to meet the residents or hold any discussion or forums on human rights issues, and accused of inciting them to stand up and protest against the company."

But newly elected provincial Governor Chan Yoeun denied that authorities had made threats against rights workers, saying he had not yet seen "any reports from those NGOs that claimed that my authorities threatened them".

Pich Chreada district Governor Nuon Saron added that he welcomed local NGOs to work with the government, but added that the rights workers had responsibilities as well.

"They must conform with the principle of government and with the agreement of the local authorities," he said.

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