Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Killings continue in Koh Kong

Killings continue in Koh Kong

Killings continue in Koh Kong

Three local fishermen were shot dead by commercial fishermen in Sre Ambel

district, Koh Kong province, the latest in a string of such killings. NGOs

deplored the October 25 attack as another in a long line of violent encounters

between locals and commercial trawlers from Stung Hao district over local

fishing grounds.

Three fishermen from Chroy Svay commune survived the

attack, although one sustained serious bullet wounds. The three survivors were

taken to Stung Hao district, Kampong Som, and charged with attempted robbery of

the commercial trawler. The prosecutor of the Sihanoukville court, Mam Mith,

confirmed the three men were jailed on October 28.

None of the commercial

fishermen has been charged.

The Sre Ambel project manager with

development NGO American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) said conflicts over

fishing in the area were both serious and frequent. Doung Vuthy added that

villagers were often unfairly punished.

"It has become normal, because

the police do not investigate whether people are robbers or not," said Vuthy.

"They just arrest the villagers and allow the commercial fishermen to go

free."

The district police chief of Sre Ambel, Nhem Dara, said officers

from his district and Stung Hao were investigating the murders and would find

the culprits. He blamed both sides for "mistakes": one of robbery, the other of

murder.

"The crime happened at sea, so we cannot [yet] define who is the

murderer," said Dara, adding that the killers had escaped after the shooting.

"The trawler [crew] could be charged for murder and using illegal

weapons."

AFSC's Vuthy said that illegal fishing by commercial trawlers

from Stung Hao regularly destroyed local villagers' nets and property.

Sre Ambel's fisheries chief, Ung Sophon, agreed.

"The people of

the two districts always bear malice against each other," he said. "The Stung

Hao people always break the [local] people's nets, so when they get angry [the

locals] rob shrimp and crab from them."

Sophon blamed the latest incident

on robbery. He said the six men had gone to steal shrimps from the commercial

boat, causing the boat's owner to open fire.

However it seems highly

likely the commercial trawler was fishing illegally. Fisheries law makes it

illegal for commercial boats to fish in water less than 20 meters in depth, such

as that off Sre Ambel.

Fisheries chief Sophon confirmed such practices

were common, and said several dozen boats from Stung Hao fished illegally in the

district's shallow waters every night.

Mak Sithirith, the coordinator of

the Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT), a local NGO, said the ongoing

conflict in Sre Ambel "needs strong intervention by the

government".

"Those who kill people are never found," he said. "The

victims are killed and then accused of robbing people."

Director of

Fisheries Nao Thouk said the government was drafting a subdecree on marine

fisheries to create community fisheries in coastal areas. The law should be

finished "sometime next year" and ought to solve some of the problems

encountered by subsistence fishermen in public coastal waters, such as those

near Sre Ambel.

The feud off Koh Kong has been simmering for more than a

decade. One fisheries official said more than 20 people had been killed in Chroy

Svay commune alone since 1991.

In June this year two Sre Ambel district fishermen were shot dead by

commercial fishermen. In March 2001 two others were killed by Stung Hao

fishermen.

In both cases the police blamed the local fishermen for trying

to rob the commercial vessels. AFSC's Vuthy said police generally arrested the

subsistence fishermen, charged them with robbery without bothering to

investigate, then extorted money.

"The last time it happened the police

did not investigate the problem," he said. "They arrested the fisherman who was

not killed and made him pay a bribe to get released."

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