ABOUT 65 would-be protesters were temporarily detained yesterday by authorities in Siem Reap province as they attempted to travel to the provincial capital to air their grievances to visiting United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, rights groups and villagers said.
Clinton arrived in Siem Reap yesterday for a two-day visit to the Kingdom that includes meetings with top officials, opposition politicians and civil society leaders.
Chhet Sambo, representing villagers from Siem Reap’s Chi Kraeng district, estimated that about 200 people from Chi Kraeng, Banteay Srei and Varin districts set out to gain an audience with the secretary of state, who was staying at Siem Reap’s Sofitel Hotel.
The protesters were intending to draw Clinton’s attention to alleged human rights abuses, land-grabbing and the lack of judicial independence in Cambodia, he said, but added that police had started blocking the routes into Siem Reap city on Saturday evening.
Chin Reaksmey, a villager from Banteay Srei, said 33 people from his district were arrested and questioned at the Preah Dak commune office, and another 17 from Varin district were held briefly at an office of the heritage police.
He said that police had detained, photographed and questioned each villager.
Chin Reaksmey said the villagers planned to meet Hillary Clinton while she was touring Angkor Wat yesterday, but that police stopped them because they were “afraid that she will know what was happening in Cambodia”.
“We have no intention of making problems in the town. We just want to tell her about [our problems],” he said.
Naly Pilorge, director of local rights group Licadho, said by text message that the two groups were released between 11am and noon, but only after being questioned and asked to sign documents saying that they would stop protesting.
So Son, deputy governor of Banteay Srei district, said the villagers were detained at Preah Dak commune office because of security concerns.
“We have to be willing to block them, in the name our authority. We have to know what has happened, otherwise they can cause problems that affect our country,” he said.
Nou Puthyk, Licadho’s provincial coordinator, condemned the actions by the local authorities.
“They have abused the villagers’ rights because they forced villagers to answer questions one by one and then shot a photo of them after the questioning,” she said.
Heritage police officer Chea Sophat, who some villagers said was involved in the questioning, could not be reached for comment on the situation yesterday.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CAMERON WELLS