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Prey Lang protest puts foursome in firing line

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A pair of Sandan district villagers who participated in last week’s Prey Lang forest protest against illegal logging, and two of the NGO workers who monitored them, were facing accusations of incitement and destruction of property in complaints filed against them in the provincial court, villagers told the Post yesterday.

Chut Wutty, director of NGO the Natural Resource Protection Group, said he had not yet received a summons, but a village chief had informed him of the complaints filed against him and three others by local authorities.

“I am just trying to educate villagers to understand about the forest law . . . and the protection of natural resources, but the district authority has filed a complaint against me on [the charge of] incitement.”

Roeun Sopheap, a villager in Sandan district, said he had also had a complaint filed against him and confirmed the three others targeted as Sim Sean, a representative of Sandan district; Chhim Savuth, a project co-ordinator for the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights; and Chut Wutty.

“I am worried about my safety, because in Cambodia, the powerful people do not respect the law but are corrupt,” he said. “We are protecting the natural resources, but [the authorities] .  .  .  support people who destroy the natural resources.”

On Sunday, villagers who had taken part in the week-long protest in Prey Lang said they had returned home to be confronted by police seeking thumbprints, background information and the names of the “ringleaders” of the protest.

“It is a great injustice for us,” Roeun Sopheap said. “Which article in the law says that it’s wrong for villagers to protect our natural resources?”

About 300 villagers from three of the four provinces overlapped by Prey Lang spent more than a week walking through the endangered forest looking for illegal loggers. The march ended with a confrontation at rubber firm CRCK, which has a concession of more than 6,000 hectares in the forest.

Sandan district police chief Oung Moly said he had filed the complaints against the two villagers and NGO workers with the provincial court because they had burned timber.

“We filed a complaint against two villager representatives for burning timber and two NGO workers who urged them to burn the timber. What they did is illegal,” he said.

Villager representative Sim Sean told the Post on November 9 that villagers had, in fact, burned 20 cubic metres of timber, but that it had been confiscated because it had been illegally logged from the forest.

NGOs have insisted throughout the protest that they were simply acting as observers.

Chheng Sophors, a senior investigator for rights group Licadho, said the two NGO workers had accompanied villagers only because they were afraid the authorities would resort to violence.

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