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Officials, activists spar at event

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Chut Vutty (second right), director of the Natural Resource Protection Group, speaks to police in Srae Veal Khang Kaeut Village, in Kampong Thom Province’s Sandan district yesterday.

Local officials accompanied by armed police attempted to stop a seminar on human rights and protection of natural resources at a pagoda in Kampong Thom province yesterday morning, organisers of the event said.

They said police surrounded Natural Resources Management Group director Chut Wutty and villagers, primarily ethnic Kuy villagers, who had travelled to the pagoda in Sandan district’s Dang Kambit commune from three provinces to learn about human rights.

The seminar followed another at the pagoda on Tuesday that drew about 70 villagers. It also ran into resistance from local authorities, a statement from the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights said.

Lim Savuth, a seminar organiser with CCHR, said commune chief Chhoy Mab and police tried to prevent Tuesday’s forum and after failing to do so they monitored it closely. The commune chief returned yesterday morning with more police and attempted to stop the seminar again, he said.

Commune officials are trying to clamp down on freedom of expression, seminar participant Minh Ny said.

Local officials, however, denied trying to stop the seminar and said its organisers had failed to inform them about it. Chhoy Mab said that when he arrived he asked to see a letter of permission but organisers responded rudely.

“I just wanted good cooperation. They came without telling us before hand,” he said, adding that it was not unusual for police to be armed.

District governor Sim Vanna said he never opposed meetings but expected organisers to follow procedures and notify authorities in advance.

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