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Activist ‘threatened’ for tip over land clearing

A bulldozer was seized for clearing protected forest land on Saturday in Stung Treng province. Photo supplied
A bulldozer was seized for clearing protected forest land on Saturday in Stung Treng province. Photo supplied

Activist ‘threatened’ for tip over land clearing

An ethnic Kuoy activist in Stung Treng province says his life was threatened after he tipped authorities off to an alleged land grab on Saturday involving two suspects who remain at large.

On Saturday, Thala Barivat District Police responded to a tip from local activist Uk Mao, 53, and stopped an area landowner and a bulldozer driver as they allegedly cleared more than 1 hectare of protected forest in Sam Ang commune.

According to provincial Agriculture Department Director Lieng Seng, the raid only resulted in the seizure of the bulldozer, as the suspects had already fled.

The provincial Forestry Administration director, Meas Sophum, said his office was pursuing the case, without giving further details.

Mao said he received a threatening phone call on Saturday evening. “You will be beheaded soon,” the caller allegedly told him. “How dare you report to the authorities? . . . I know your house,” Mao recalled the anonymous caller saying.

“They were furious with me because I tipped off the authorities to halt and seize the machinery,” he said, explaining that the accused clearer is a large-scale local landowner. Fearing for his safety, Mao said he requested the intervention of the commune police and rights group Adhoc.

This is not the first time Mao said he had received threats for bringing attention to land grabs. In January, he reported being threatened with prosecution for defamation by commune authorities after he notified them that state and community land was being cleared and sold off.

Thala Barivat District Governor Thong Srorn said he was unaware of the threats against Mao.

“Clearing is illegal and they came in an anarchic way,” said Srorn. “After receiving the information, we just implemented the law to arrest [the suspects],” adding that authorities continued to search for the two men.

Hou Sam Ol, Adhoc’s Stung Treng provincial coordinator, called on higher authorities to investigate the case.

“It is like timber hauling cases – mostly only the evidence is seized while the criminals and drivers are rarely captured,” he said, adding that Mao should be protected by local police.

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