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Forest activist seeking PM’s intervention in ‘assault’ case

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Forest activist Chhorn Phalla (right) during a press conference on Thursday. Photo supplied

Forest activist seeking PM’s intervention in ‘assault’ case

Forest activist and member of the Tampuan indigenous group Chhorn Phalla on Thursday repeated claims that he had been beaten by a large group of people at a public forum in Ratanakiri province on July 8.

He also requested intervention from Prime Minister Hun Sen to resolve the matter.

Phalla had called a press conference on Thursday after provincial authorities, police and Lumphat district governor Nou The denied his claim.

The beating, he said, occurred after he filed a complaint against some citizens and officials for allowing land-stealing at the Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary and the Tampuans’ designated land.

Some citizens were angered by his accusation and attacked him, he said.

Phalla said the Tampuans’ property was filled with plantations, conservation land, burial grounds, and religious sites to make offerings.

“In 2016, land and forest in the wildlife sanctuary was sold to hundreds of Vietnamese people.

“They logged the forest in the Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary and the forest and land of the [Tampuan] community. I reported the case to the authorities at all levels but no one stopped them.

“This is a contract that the authorities made to sell the forest to Vietnamese people to log and transport timber to Vietnam. In 2017, the deforestation escalated,” he said.

He said he wanted the relevant ministries and Hun Sen to seek justice for him. He said he was just following Hun Sen’s call on the people to protect natural resources.

“When I went to the forum, they beat me. I ran to the authorities, I ran to Lumphat district governor Nou The’s place for help.

“Samdech Hun Sen said publicly to prohibit deforestation. He hates anyone who logs forests. So, I remembered his words and I’m a forest protector along with him.

“Samdech even hates anyone who shelters under his political party to hide illegal acts and commit forest crimes. I’m a forest protector along with him, but I have been victimised by offenders who beat me,” he said.

The issued a letter denying the claim and said Phalla talked off-topic and disrupted the forum. He said Phalla took photos and posted them on social media without permission. Then, people took away his phones, The said.

Ratanakkiri provincial police also reported the case to the National Police, saying that Phalla took the forum floor and accused some citizens and officials of allowing deforestation.

Police said Phalla grew angry and caused disorder at the forum before the authorities stopped him

Adhoc human rights group leader Ny Sokha said if violence is used against forest activists, it will make others afraid to participate in protecting the forests.

“I find that from now on, forest and natural resource protectors will no longer dare come forward because if they do, they will be mistreated.

“No one gets to the bottom of the case for them. So, this creates a negative influence. I think that the government will not ignore this case,” he said.

But Ministry of Justice and Cambodia Human Rights Committee (CHRC) spokesman Chin Malin said local officials stated that this was not a case of violence, rather people could not restrain their anger and a scuffle ensued.

“In a legal landscape, he [Phalla] claimed that he has a clear basis of suffering from abuse and violence. He has the right to file a legal complaint supported by evidence,” Malin said.

He said he thought Phalla’s press conference was politically motivated.

“The press conference is a general and political matter that activists have always used for political gain,” he claimed.

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