Thirty-four Kampong Thom villagers are facing prosecution for illegal fishing in
areas they say were designated for public use by Prime Minister Hun Sen in January.
An official investigation began on May 18 into allegations that the villagers had
illegally taken fish catches estimated at a value of $3,800 from a private fishing
lot. The villagers and NGOs insist that the Boeung Prasan lake where they fished
became a community fishing area in January.
"The villagers did not commit any mistake because they fished in that area after
the sub-decree [on cutting and reducing fish lots] had been signed by Prime Minister
Hun Sen," said Yim Lam, Director of the Poor People's Development Organization.
"They shouldn't blame the villagers who respected the government rules."
The dispute stems from the Prime Minister's decision in January to end the violence
and anarchy linked to the Kingdom's fishing lot system by unilaterally turning over
large swaths of private fishing lot concessions to public use.
Tep Bunarith, Network and Advocacy Officer of the Cambodian Environment Preservation
Association (CEPA) told the Post that in the redrawn maps of Fishing Lot 6 which
the villagers are accused of violating, the area where the villagers were arrested
is clearly within the newly-designated community fishing area.
The problem, says Bunarith, is that Kampong Thom provincial officials have yet to
confirm that the sub-decree signed by Hun Sen has actually gone into effect, in spite
of the fact that the sub-decree specifies it takes effect upon signing by the Prime
Huot Hy, Kampong Thom court Prosecutor, told the Post that he had accused the villagers
of attempted wrongful damage of property and the case had been handed to an investigating
Hy says he wants to identify the village leaders who led the fishing expedition to
the disputed area and prosecute them under Article 52 of the penal code.
Hy rejected villagers claims that Boeung Prasan lake had been designated a community
fishing area in January, accusing them of "acting too quickly" following
the signing of the sub-decree.