Kampong Thom province
Police armed with AK-47s joined local authorities in breaking up a human rights training event in Kampong Thom’s Sandan district yesterday.
The event, organised by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights and the Natural Resource Protection Group in Meanrith commune, had barely commenced when local officials arrived with about 30 armed police and military police.
“This is my land, my area and my commune, and you need my approval to come here,” said Chheum Khon, chief of Meanrith commune.
Chhim Savuth, project co-ordinator at CCHR, said authorities threatened organisers and participants with arrest.
“The reason they don’t want villagers to meet with us is because they cut a lot of trees in this district, so they don’t want the news to get out,” he said.
CCHR said in a statement that permission was not required for “education dissemination activities” under the Law on Peaceful Demonstrations.
CCHR organised the training in response to tips from local community members that deforestation had accelerated in the area. About 30 local residents came to the event.
Police photographed participants and organisers, and deputy district governor Div Hok asked for identity cards of everyone involved, CCHR said.
Despite fearing for her safety, villager Prom Prin turned up to the event hoping to learn more about human rights and law.
“This is teaching people human rights, not teaching people about drinking or how to kill each other,” she shouted at the officials.
Prom Prin said local residents witnessed illegal logging on a daily basis, with most illegal trafficking occurring at night.
“We see it every day,” she said. “It should be stopped to keep the natural environment for the next generation.”
Ouch Sam On, deputy governor of Kampong Thom province, said he did not allow the workshop to take place because CCHR and NRPG did not have offices in his province.
“We cannot allow them to bring villagers from outside our province to come to meet together in my province, because it affects my province’s security,” he added.
The training took place after a two-hour standoff.
Ou Virak, president of CCHR, said the tactics of the authorities were “shocking”.
“Nevertheless, what I will remember most from today is not the school yard bully boy tactics deployed by the authorities, rather it is the defiance of the participants – ordinary people motivated by their desire to inform themselves of their human rights under Cambodian and international law facing-down armed police,” he said.
Also this week, a monk retracted permission he had given to CCHR and NRPG to conduct a workshop in Dang Kambit commune after warnings from the commune chief.
Prey Lang, a massive forest that stretches perhaps 3,600-square kilometres across four provinces including Sandan district, lacks legal protection and has become a flashpoint between local residents and government officials who have approved numerous concessions to private companies.
MAY TITTHARA REPORTED FROM PHNOM PENH