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Villagers face incitement allegation

Villagers face incitement allegation

VILLAGE representatives speaking at a press conference in Phnom Penh yesterday said that three people accused of inciting protests against an NGO in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Khsan district had been summoned to appear for questioning at the provincial court this week.

Villagers said the legal action was part of a campaign of intimidation by the Drugs and AIDS Research and Prevention Organisation, an NGO that was granted a 556-hectare social land concession in 2007 and charged with aiding disadvantaged families in the area.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 21 NGOs, issued a statement yesterday urging the government to investigate DARPO, saying the organisation had forced families who had lived in Choam Ksan since 2002 to leave their homes under fear of “threats, rape and torture”.

Local rights group Adhoc, which has been investigating the NGO since July, filed a similar complaint to four government ministries on Friday.

Sath Savoeun, a village representative who attended the conference yesterday, said she was among three villagers summoned to appear at the court on Thursday. “I am afraid of being arrested,” she said.

DARPO director Pen Loem, a one-star general and adviser to Senate President Chea Sim, said yesterday that the villagers had been accused of inciting protests against him.

“Those small groups tried to incite my people to thumbprint documents to accuse me,” he said. He added, though, that the complaint against the three villagers had not been filed by him, but by Choam Ksan residents who had benefited from his organisation.

Village representative Kim Sophal said that the NGO charged villagers up to US$4,000 for plots of land, and then used the threat of legal action to prevent them from complaining.

“We are living in fear,” and villagers who had travelled to Phnom Penh to attend the press conference expected retribution, he said. “When we return back, they will threaten us by all means.”

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