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Villagers under surveillance

Villagers under surveillance

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People wearing symbolic leaves protest against land concessions the government has granted in Prey Lang forest during a rally at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh last week.

Preah Vihear province
Villager representatives from Kampong Thom province’s Sandan district who have been vocal in their opposition to land concessions in Prey Lang forest say they have been under surveillance in recent months and fear they may face legal action.

The villagers raised the issue at a public forum in Preah Vihear province on Tuesday that was organised by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.

Sandan Chheang Vuthy said police in the district had stopped him and other representatives and taken down their names as the group travelled to a community forum in April and a protest in Phnom Penh last week.

“I am afraid because the authorities said the names will be taken to file a complaint to the court, but I wonder what I am doing wrong,” he said. Svay Phoeun, another community representative, said local forums in Sandan had drawn police who registered all village representatives in attendance. “Wherever the villagers go, police officers register the representatives,” he said.

Prey Lang, which stretches for roughly 3,600-square kilometres between the Mekong and Stung Treng rivers across parts of four provinces, has been the subject of heated protests in recent months, as villagers claim the government is crowding them out through the rampant awarding of concessions.

The Prey Lang network, a local activist group, says more than 40,000 hectares in the forest have been granted for rubber plantations alone, while 27 exploration licences and related concessions have been handed to mining firms.

Sandan commune police chief Oung San acknowledged that local authorities had registered villagers at public gatherings, but said this was not a prelude to legal action.

“We don’t register their names to threaten them or to file a complaint,” he said. “We want to know which people might be in danger so it is easy to help them.”

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