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Missing land activist found

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Sum Meun (centre) disappeared in Oddar Meanchey province on January 20. Photo supplied

Missing land activist found

A land activist involved in a dispute who disappeared in January reunited with his wife in Phnom Penh on Friday.

Sum Meun disappeared in Oddar Meanchey province on January 20, with Human Rights Watch (HRW) calling on the government to reveal his whereabouts, while a provincial governor said the 54-year-old had disappeared and was in hiding in fear of being arrested.

Meun and his wife, Phin Mao, are one of 339 families locked in a land dispute with the Metrei Pheap company on the border between Preah Vihear and Oddar Meanchey provinces.

Preah Vihear provincial governor Un Chanda told The Post on Sunday that Meun, whose family had said he was missing, met Mao in Phnom Penh on Friday. Mao reported his reappearance to the police.

Chanda said district and provincial authorities had said Meun would not be arrested and urged him to return home. However, he was worried he might be detained again and had remained in hiding.

“Authorities told him that he would not be punished. They told him to return to his wife, but he stayed. I told him that he was not considered to be involved in any crime, but he was scared and remained hidden. On the matter of his land dispute, authorities were trying to help,” Chanda said.

Mao told The Post on Sunday that she had found her husband after friends saw him in Preah Sihanouk province and informed her of his whereabouts.

Meun then went to Phnom Penh, with Mao meeting him in the capital.

Mao said she had not asked him any details regarding his time in hiding, but she said he told her briefly that following being arrested and detained at a provincial environment department, he escaped while allowed out to urinate.

“When he was out of the environment department, he was faint. No one came to look for him and he walked away."

“He begged and scavenged things [in exchange for money], and walked all the way to Preah Sihanouk province. A villager who currently works in Preah Sihanouk province, [saw him] and told me of his whereabouts,” Mao said.

Licadho investigation officer Am Sam Ath told The Post that he went to meet Meun after being informed that he had reappeared. He said he found Meun weak, pale and thin, while his left hand shook. However, he said his mental health appeared good.

“His mental condition was well because he could communicate with me, but his body was not good. I told his family that he needs to have a health check-up,” he said.

On March 20, HRW urged the Cambodian authorities to show Meun to the public after his arrest in January over the land dispute.

Brad Adams, the executive director of HRW’s Asia Division, called on the government to bring Meun to court and charge him accordingly or let him return to his family.

Adams did not respond to a request for comment as of press time on Sunday.

On March 18, Mao sent letters to National Assembly representative for Preah Vihear province Suos Yara and provincial authorities requesting that they find her husband after his arrest on January 20.

Fourteen villagers have from January 21 been charged and put into pre-trial detention in provincial prisons over grabbing and clearing land in a protected area, Licadho has said.

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