Authorities prevented Prey Lang forest advocates from disseminating information on Friday about Prime Minister Hun Sen’s sub-decree ordering provincial authorities to grant land to villagers affected by economic land and forest concessions, group representatives said yesterday.
Koem Sokhorn, a representative of the Prey Lang network, a group that seeks to protect the forest, said he didn’t know why authorities in Kratie’s Kampong Cham commune barred discussion of the prime minister’s address, in which he spoke of the importance of forests to local economies, and gave authorities six months to rule in favour of villagers in all forest-related land disputes.
“I don’t know whether the village and commune chiefs know about the premier’s speech or not, but they banned us,” he said. “We wanted to discuss this because it is important for all of us who make a living on resin trees.”
According to Koem Sokhorn, authorities claimed the group hadn’t asked permission from the commune chief, but he said that he had informed authorities verbally beforehand.
Kampong Cham commune chief Chhit Norn maintained he had not been asked for permission, and was within his rights to shut down the meeting.
“If I am the commune chief, [and people don’t ask for my permission] I don’t know why there is a commune chief or village chief,” he said.
Theng Savoeun, a co-ordinator for the Coalition of Cambodia Farmers Community, said the Prey Lang network held similar meetings in six of the eight villages in the commune, but were barred from doing so in the last two.
“This action is contrary to what the constitution states, and freezes the villagers’ rights to expression,” he said.
According to Theng Savoeun, the group held the meetings to publicise Hun Sen’s latest sub-decree, and to discuss whether the affected communities should adhere to the new sub-decree, or to one issued earlier this year that named parts of Prey Lang a national forest while barring villagers from harvesting medicinal roots and vines there.
Chan Soveth, a senior investigator for human rights group Adhoc, said Chhit Norn had no reason to block the assembly, and village and commune authorities should have informed the villagers of the decree themselves.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]