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Monk told to bar workshop

Villagers affected by land concessions in the Prey Lang forest protest in Phnom Penh last month.

A chief monk who granted permission for two NGOs to hold a legal education workshop at the Kiribotaram pagoda, in Dang Kambit commune, Kampong Thom province, has retracted his invitat-ion after warnings from the commune chief.

This development comes the day after Kampong Thom provincial authorities reportedly threatened to prevent the  NGOs holding workshops providing  legal education to villagers whose livelihoods are threatened by economic land concessions in the Prey Lang forest.

Authorities reportedly told the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights and the Natural Resource Protection Group that their workshops could provoke unrest against private investors.

Venerable Yin Net, chief monk of the Kiribotaram pag-oda, explained that he had initially allowed the workshops to be conducted at his pagoda, in Sandan district, but the commune chief had subsequently banned them.

“It is not from me, it is the commune chief,” Yin Net said.

Cambodian Centre for Human Rights project co-ord-inator Chhim Savuth said Kampong Thom province’s Sandan district governor had imposed the ban.

“I think they might be doing something bad in that area, so they don’t want the villagers to understand about the law,” Chhim Savuth said.

Despite the threats, the workshops would go ahead at the Meanrith commune today and the Dang Kambit comm-une tomorrow, he said.

“They accused us of urging villagers to go against the government on providing economic land concessions to private companies, but we just teach villagers to understand the law,” he said.

Rights groups yesterday decried what they called more allegations and threats against CCHR and NRGP, saying they were the latest  developments in an ongoing crackdown on civil society groups in Cambodia.

“These allegations and threats against CCHR and NRPG are without any basis and are the latest evidence of a deeply disturbing trend in Cambodia whereby the government is clearly seeking to silence the voices of civil society and the general public,” CCHR president Ou Virak said in a press release.

“In this instance, we see provincial officials wrongly citing the law as a means to prevent the legitimate efforts of ordinary people to inform themselves of their rights in Cambodian and international law.

“This is a daunting prec-edent and, with the NGO law on the horizon, the ominous spectre looms whereby officials are given free rein, and an appearance of legitimacy, to make such arbitrary moves in an effort to silence those they purport to represent.”

Sandan district governor Sim Vanna could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Kampong Thom province deputy governor Ouch Sam On declined to comment.



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