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Ethnic Kuoy villagers protest on Friday over farming land and resin trees that were allegedly cleared in Preah Vihear
Ethnic Kuoy villagers protest on Friday over farming land and resin trees that were allegedly cleared in Preah Vihear’s Tbeng Meanchey district. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Protesting villagers in hiding

Two ethnic Kuoy villagers in Preah Vihear province’s Tbeng Meanchey district are in hiding after rumours circulated yesterday that police were seeking to arrest them for participating in a protest against two Chinese plantation firms last week.

Lor Chann, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that Phan Sokhet, 25, and Chhim Samut, 31, were on the run after taking part in a protest of more than 150 Kuoy villagers that began on Thursday.

“They were told that police had planned to arrest them for inciting villagers to protest against the companies,” he said, adding that if police were looking for the men it could be an attempt to intimidate the protesters into halting a planned one-month demonstration.

On Thursday, Venerable But Buntenh, president of the Independent Monks Network, along with another monk, Nam Chanthen, and three staff members of the Community Legal Education Center – Bo Pao, Em Sarom and Chhan Sambo – were arrested by Preah Vihear provincial police after attending the protest. Sokhet said yesterday that he was concerned for the safety of himself and Samut after he was told that police were searching for them.

“Police arrested the monks and NGO staff without any reason, so for me I need to escape because the situation is not good and police just arrest anyone they want,” he said.

“We all lost the land, so we protest for a solution. I did not incite them and they did not incite me either.”

However, Tbeng Meanchey deputy district police chief Soam Hay and Brame commune police chief Thin Chanthy denied that police were searching for the two men.

The two monks and CLEC members were released shortly after 9am on Friday following the intervention of Adhoc and a protest outside the district police station by 106 ethnic Kuoy.

Si Kiry, provincial police chief, yesterday played down the detention of the monks and CLEC staff. “We did not arrest or detain them. We saw them . . . with protesters and we questioned them, and when there was no problem we let them go,” he said.

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