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Villagers fear armed threats

Villagers fear armed threats

Villagers in Svay Rieng province said yesterday they were pressured to retract a complaint filed with the National Assembly last month against a customs officer and military police officers they say threatened them with guns over a dispute about confiscated petrol.

More than 140 families filed the complaint on February 16, seeking intervention by the government over what they said was a rise in unauthorised seizures of petrol, a charge prompted by the confiscation of 1,484 litres of petrol from a Metfone employee in Svay Rieng province.

The employee was bringing the fuel by bus to Svay Rieng to power cell phone towers operated by the mobile phone service provider when they say customs official Preap Kearath ordered military police to confiscate it.

Keo Sina, a representative for the villagers, said yesterday that Preap Kearath demanded villagers withdraw the complaint or he would file a counter-complaint against them for defamation.

“He threatened that if we didn’t thumbprint [a letter] to withdraw the complaint, we would go to prison for 1 to 2 years because we defamed his reputation. I am neither frightened nor will I withdraw the complaint,” she said.

She added that military police persuaded villagers to meet at the house of Chum Ry, police chief of Dong commune, in Romeas Hek district, on March 3 and said they would return their confiscated petrol if the villagers agreed to thumbprint a letter withdrawing their complaint.

A military police officer who declined to be name said he was also threatened by Preap Kearath after being summoned to report to National Military Police Commander Sao Sokha to explain why he had given the customs official’s phone number to angry villagers.

“I don’t know why the customs official has filed a complaint against me. I just handed his phone [number] to villagers who had complained against him to journalists,” he said.

Heng Samrin, president of the National Assembly, signed an intervention letter on February 28 in support of the families and sent it to Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon, asking him to take action on the complaints against Preap Kearath and the military police officers for threatening the lives of villagers.

Preap Kearath could not be reached to provide a comment yesterday.

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