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Rights worker summonsed over land fight

Rights worker summonsed over land fight

A rights group worker has earned a court summons for monitoring villagers who were embroiled in a Preah Vihear land dispute with a Chinese company.

Lut Sang, the Khmer Ponlok employee scheduled to appear in provincial court today, said that he was only a passive observer of a demonstration last month in which villagers destroyed some of the company’s sugar cane.

“The governor sided with the company and accused me of inciting the villagers, but the villagers did it themselves,” Sang said.

The summons comes after a protest in Tbeng Meanchey district last month over the alleged expansion of Roy Feng Company’s sugar plantation onto farmland.

“Over 200 villagers uprooted the sugar cane that the company has planted on the land of 10 families,” said 63-year-old Nuon Mon, who is one of two representatives also called to appear for questioning today in relation to the incident.

“We protested against the company because it cleared our land and forest even though we have asked the company to stop,” Mon continued.

The activities of rights group Khmer Ponlok came under fire last month after provincial governor Oum Mara submitted a letter to the Ministry of Interior “detailing his intentions to close the Ponlok Khmer offices, to create a working group to meet with villagers and ask them to stop destroying sugarcane and to allow the Roy Feng Company to file a lawsuit against the community leaders”, according to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

Governor Oum Mara could not be reached yesterday and provincial hall spokeswoman Khoy Bunthan said she was too busy to comment.

Transparency International Cambodia executive director Preap Kol said that while there haven’t been any systematic attempts by the government to crack down on NGOs in the Kingdom, individual cases where “disciplinary action” has been taken against an NGO have occurred in the past.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak and Roy Feng Company could not be reached for comment.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that if Khmer Ponlock had been inciting villagers to commit “illegal activity”, it would be punished.

“An NGO is no different than a business and will be tried equally under the law,” he said.

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