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Prey Lang protesters on run after police allegedly pay a visit

Prey Lang protesters on run after police allegedly pay a visit

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Sim Sean, a community representative and conservation activist, patrols for illegal loggers in Prey Lang forest last month. Photo by: May Titthara

TWO activists involved in last month’s Prey Lang forest protest against illegal logging fled their houses yesterday in Sandan district in an attempt to evade local authorities, villagers reported.

Roeun Sopheap, village representative in Sandan commune, said he fled his home yesterday after finding several police officers stationed outside. He had just returned to his house a few days ago after spending nearly a month hiding in the woods avoiding capture.

“I have not been in my home for the past month because I fled after police tried to force me to provide my thumbprint. I just returned to my home two days ago and police started coming to my house, so I have to flee for my safety,” he said.

Fellow villager Sim Sean reported similar police patrols outside his home. He, along with Roeun Sopheap and NGO workers Chhim Savuth and Chut Wutty, are facing accusations of incitement and destruction of property. The complaints were filed against them last month after they and about 300 other villagers from provinces overlapped by the Prey Lang forest roamed the endangered area in search of illegal logging activity.

During their patrols, villagers said they confiscated several chainsaws and burned more than a dozen cubic metres of illegally logged timber.

The villagers-in-hiding allege that the same authorities who filed complaints against them are profiting from illegal logging. “The police who are in the business of illegal logging filed complaints against us to threaten us,” Roeun Sopheap said.

Sim Sean agreed, saying the complaints were an “injustice”.

“Nobody cares about the people who are destroying the trees, but the people who are protecting the trees, like us, are facing a lot of problems,” he said.

Sandan commune police chief Oung Sann denied any officers from his force had been deployed to Roeun Sopheap’s or Sim Sean’s homes and speculated the officers in question might be provincial authorities. “I don’t know who the police were because they did not cooperate with us,” the chief said.

Chheng Sophors, senior investigator for rights group Licadho, said local authorities should stop threatening villagers and instead work with them to crack down upon illegal logging in the area.

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