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Villagers cry bias over loss of reservoirs

VILLAGERS in Kampong Thom province’s Baray district have decried the recent demolition of a series of manmade reservoirs as unfair, saying local Fisheries Department officials have exhibited bias in favour of wealthy businessmen while attempting to extort money from them.

Late last month, officials said they had demolished 16 manmade reservoirs surrounding the Tonle Sap lake, citing threats to the environment and fish habitats.

But Vann Rith, a representative of Kiri Andet village in Treal commune, said a 600-by-700-metre reservoir there that was not among the 16 slated for demolition had also been dismanted.

He said a provincial Fisheries Department official, Chhin Sitha, forced the villagers to pay US$240 to fill in the empty reservoir.

“We wonder why those officials chose to demolish the villagers’ reservoir, but didn’t destroy nearby reservoirs belonging to businessmen,” he said, and added that the villagers needed the reservoir to store water for rice farming during the dry season.

He said Chhin Sitha had threatened to have the villagers arrested if they tried to stop the demolition.

Chhea La, another village representative, said Chhin Sitha had told residents of the village that they could keep their reservoir if they were willing to pay him a $2,000 bribe, which they refused to do.

Chhun Chhorn, the provincial governor, said Wednesday that he was aware that officials had forced villagers in Kiri Andet village and elsewhere to finance the filling in of demolished reservoirs.

“I sent a warning letter earlier this month to those officials telling them to stop asking for money from villagers ... but they do not listen to me because I don’t have the authority to order them around and I don’t have evidence,” he said.

Chhin Sitha could not be reached for comment Wednesday, and Nao Thouk, director of the Fisheries Administration, declined to comment.

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