Sawmill Discovered in Oddar Meanchey Forest; Wood Seized

3 Jul

Source: The Cambodia Daily BY SAING SOENTHRITH | JULY 3, 2015

Forestry officials in Oddar Meanchey province on Wednesday discovered a timber processing plant and thousands of lengths of luxury-grade wood in a remote forested area populated only by soldiers, officials said Thursday.

The sawmill was found in Samraong City’s Konkriel commune, 20 km from the Thai-Cambodian border, according to commune police chief Mao Samnang.

Only RCAF [Royal Cambodian Armed Forces] can enter that area, and our villagers never go there, but we dare not blame soldiers,” he said.

Mr. Samnang said the sawmill had been in operation for about three months, and was owned by a businessman whom he declined to name, adding that the area where it is located is manned by soldiers from Brigade 42 of RCAF’s Division 4. “There are only small trees left now. All the good wood is gone,” he said.

Brigade 42 commander Pen Voy could not be reached Thursday.

Cheng David, a senior Forestry Administration official in Oddar Meanchey, said his team was in the process of moving the timber—most of it small pieces of luxury-grade Thnong, which can fetch thousands of dollars a square meter—out of the forest and back to headquarters in Samraong City.

He said that when forestry officials arrived at the scene, men working there scattered into the forest and could not be apprehended.

“We have not yet measured the timber, but it is thousands of pieces that were confiscated, and three saws,” Mr. David said. “Now we are investigating to find out who is the owner of the plant because it is deep in the jungle.”

According to Samraong City governor Um Sopheak, provincial governor Sar Thavy gave a speech at an Arbor Day ceremony in the city on Wednesday during which he discussed the operation to shut down the sawmill.

“But he did not blame the soldiers for illegally cutting that wood, he only said that there were thousands of pieces confiscated,” Mr. Sopheak said.

lmost 100 More Factory Workers Faint

3 Jul

Source: The Cambodia Daily by BY AUN CHHENGPOR | JULY 3, 2015

Almost 350 workers have now fainted in garment factories across the country this week, with 95 workers collapsing in three different factories in Phnom Penh, Kandal and Takeo provinces Thursday, according to the Labor Ministry.

At about 7:30 a.m. in the CN Prosperous Garment factory in Phnom Penh, 52 workers collapsed, said Cheav Bunrith, spokesman for the Labor Ministry’s National Social Security Fund (NSSF). On Monday, 95 workers fainted at the same factory.

“We are still figuring out the reasons, but like I told you before, there is nothing strange technically. For a factory that has a fainting incident, this may last a number of days,” Mr. Bunrith said.

“It is due to personal problems of the workers themselves, who have weak health conditions. We have found no problems with the chemical substances or the building environment,” he added.

At about 7:15 a.m. Thursday in the Vonammy garment factory in Takeo province, 29 workers fainted, according to a report from the NSSF, a day after 65 workers collapsed there after eating tainted shrimp paste during lunch.

“[The] workers started to faint again due to their existing fearful mentalities,” the report says, adding that the 29 women were treated at nearby hospitals and health clinics.

Ly Ying, an administrator at Vonnamy, said the factory agreed to allow the women who fainted to return to work on Monday without any cut to their wages.

About 14 workers from Crystal Martin factory in Kandal province collapsed at about 9:30 a.m. after a short circuit in a nearby building set off a smoke alarm, sparking panic among workers, Mr. Bunrith said.

“The working employees felt fear and caused chaos,” he said.

The factory closed Thursday to avoid further faintings, while those who fainted were sent to nearby hospitals, he added.

Representatives for the CN Prosperous and Crystal Martin factories could not be reached for comment.

Monks holding forest demo

3 Jul

Source: The Phnom Penh Post by Ethan Harfenist Fri, 3 July 2015

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Monks inspect damaged vehicles yesterday afternoon in Preah Vihear province’s Kulen district after they were involved in an accident while traveling to Prey Lang forest. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Despite a minor car crash on the way to Preah Vihear yesterday, more than 100 environmental activist monks will today march into Prey Lang forest to ordain trees and promote environmental awareness.

But Buntenh, founder of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, and his caravan faced a setback yesterday following the accident but said that he would go ahead with the march and the ordination ceremony in order to help publicise issues facing the forest and the communities dependent on its resources.

“People don’t really think of deforestation,” he said. “I started this campaign because the monks can influence the people. Once this happens, people will take part in the protection process.”

Days earlier, on Tuesday, a biodiversity assessment for the Forestry Administration conducted by Conservation International and Winrock International, and sponsored by USAID, noted that Prey Lang is the “largest lowland evergreen forest in Cambodia, and possibly the most expansive in the Indo-Burma region”.

The forest stretches across four provinces – Kratie, Kampong Thom, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear – and contains almost 1,000 plant and animal species, many of which are threatened.

It is also a main support system for the roughly 250,000 people who reside near it.

Still, the report says, “illegal logging is evident throughout the landscape, [and] occurring at alarming rate”.

Buntenh added that, in addition to being an environmental necessity, he sees conservation activism in the forest area as a religious duty.

“People say they are Buddhist, but they are not really taking the Buddha’s teachings into practice,” he said.

“The Buddha doesn’t allow people to deforest, but now we see that the entire country is being deforested.”

An independent youth who is set to participate in the march said the monks would hopefully inspire locals to become more engaged in conservation efforts.

“Most Cambodians respect monks. So when monks conduct blessings, they dare not to cut down the trees,” he said.

He added that the campaign was likely to ruffle some feathers in the provincial government, as similar events have in the past.

In May, a student group led by Kem Ley, a social activist and founder of the Khmer for Khmer group, was denied entrance into the forest, allegedly due to the group inspiring protests from families in Stung Treng.

Lawmaker says NGO law must pass now

2 Jul
Source: Phnom Penh Post,By: Pech Sotheary,Thu, 2 July 2015

Despite government assurances that the controversial NGO draft law was still undergoing review, committees of the National Assembly said yesterday that the only revisions will be minor corrections to spelling and wording.

The decision was made in a meeting with the three commissions responsible for studying and reviewing the draft law.

“Overall, we decided to keep the meaning intact,” said Chheang Vun, chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Commission.

“It is imperative that we pass it right now, so that it will guarantee social stability, [and] prevent foreign interference, which can sour the political environment,” he said.

The commissions, he said, will hold a workshop with government representatives on Monday and another on Wednesday, before making a final decision.

All the committees have agreed on for now is the time to pass the bill, Vun said.

However, after the interview, Vun banned CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An from speaking to the press in the grounds of parliament without permission from National Assembly President Heng Samrin.

Sam An addressed the press despite the objections from Vun, saying the ruling party MP’s attempt to stop him from talking to the media was a form of political censorship, a deprivation of the rights of opposition lawmakers and a violation of the internal rules of the National Assembly and constitution.

He added that if the recommendations made by CNRP lawmakers were not incorporated into a revision of the bill at the upcoming workshop, “CNRP members will not support the draft laws”.

Soldiers Face Down Soldiers Over Capture of Loggers

2 Jul
Source: The CamboDia DailyBy Aun Pheap | July 2, 2015

Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) soldiers from Kratie province surrounded a platoon from Mondolkiri on Tuesday night in order to free a group of Vietnamese men who had been detained on suspicion of illegal logging, a military official said Wednesday.

Members of Mondolkiri’s Platoon 1 had been waiting along the side of the road for a translator shortly after apprehending four Vietnamese men in the province’s Keo Seima district when the soldiers from Kratie showed up and surrounded them, according to Thorn Mengsrea, the platoon’s commander.

“The group of soldiers pointed AK-47s at my five soldiers, took the Vietnamese people and ran away,” Mr. Mengsrea said, adding that he left the scene before the rogue soldiers arrived, at about 9:30 p.m.

After receiving a call about the incident, Mr. Mengsrea, who holds the rank of lieutenant colonel, said he immediately deployed more troops to the area, but that the Kratie soldiers and Vietnamese men had already disappeared.

“I have reported this event to the upper level and we should let them manage this case because soldiers from Kratie province gave protection to illegal immigrants,” he said.

Mr. Mengsrea said he and five other soldiers from his platoon apprehended the Vietnamese men earlier in the evening as they drove a pair of trucks through Sre Preah commune, a hotbed of illegal logging that abuts Kratie’s Snuol district to the south.

Meas Pheap, the commander of Regiment 204, which is based in Snuol, said he was unaware of the incident on Tuesday night.

Nay Toeung Loeng, the Kratie provincial RCAF commander, however, offered a vastly different account, saying the incident occurred because the Mondolkiri soldiers had strayed into his province, prompting his troops to confiscate their weapons.

“We had the authority to confiscate the guns of the five soldiers from Mondolkiri province because they entered the territory of Kratie,” Brigadier General Toeung Loeng said. “We arrested the four Vietnamese, but we have sent them back home.”

He said the Vietnamese men had illegally crossed into Cambodia to log luxury wood, and were taken from the Mondolkiri soldiers and sent home without charge because the military in Kratie had “an agreement” with authorities in Vietnam’s Binh Phuoc province, which shares a border with both Mondolkiri and Kratie.

Brig. Gen. Toeung Loeng said he had since “compromised” with military officials in Mondolkiri and returned the confiscated weapons. RCAF Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun declined to comment on the incident. Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat could not be reached.

The area where Mondolkiri, Kratie and Vietnam converge—including the Seima Protected Forest— has lately become a flashpoint for clashes between logging cartels and security forces, with the line between the two often blurred.

Contacted Wednesday, Mondolkiri RCAF Commander Chhit Meng Sreng said Kratie military personnel were prominent players in the illicit timber trade. “Those people give protection to Vietnamese nationals so they can log trees in Khmer territory, but I don’t want to talk about this case because they are not working [in Mondolkiri],” he said.

Brigadier General Meng Sreng himself made headlines in February last year when military and provincial police raided his home and rubber plantation, discovering more than 50 pieces of luxury wood. A week later, however, with officials seemingly reticent to prosecute the military heavyweight, the case was closed.

“This case is over, because when I threatened them with a lawsuit, the authorities involved apologized to me,” Brig. Gen. Meng Sreng said at the time.

Call for Sesan 2 logging halt

1 Jul
Source: Phnom Penh Post ,By May Titthara,Wed, 1 July 2015
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Children play in the water in Stung Treng province’s Srepok commune last year, where the Lower Sesan II dam is slated for construction. Pha Lina

Villagers who will be displaced by the $800-million Lower Sesan II hydropower dam in northeastern Cambodia have called for the clear demarcation of the reservoir zone to prevent rampant illegal logging.

A significant proportion of the villagers from Stung Treng province’s Srekor commune have declined compensation from the dam builder, Hydro Power Lower Sesan 2 Co, because they deemed the resettlement sites on offer unsuitable for farming.

The allocation of a contract to clear fell the reservoir zone has led to large-scale deforestation of protected timber, forest monitors allege.

Fort Kheun, a representative of the villagers, said the contract, awarded to a subsidiary of tycoon Kith Meng’s Royal Group and a company owned by the brother of petroleum magnate Sok Kong, has been used as an excuse to log illegally.

“When they cut the trees, they say the company is clearing the reservoir basin.

But they are logging far beyond that area,” he said.

“I am one of many residents who treasures natural resources, so I am arguing that what is left should not be lost.”

Shortly after the logging concession was granted, allegations of abuse of the contract led the Council of Ministers to issue a letter to the Ministry of Agriculture ordering the logging be halted until an assessment of the area could be carried out.

The Agriculture Ministry did not respond to the letter, a cabinet spokesman said at the time, and sources yesterday could not confirm whether the demarcation of the reservoir had ever been completed.

“Even though we may be flooded or die, we will continue to live in our village,” Kheun said, adding that about 254 families in Srekor continued to resist resettlement.

A spokesman for Hydro Power Lower Sesan 2 did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Ith Praing, secretary of state at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, denied that any illegal logging outside of the permitted reservoir zone had occurred.

“The forest cannot be logged for the hydropower project other than clearing the basin . . . I support the protest against illegally logging outside the project area,” he said.

“But if they [villagers] think they are willing to die there, it is useless. The flood will come to the valley.”

He added that the aim of the project was to develop the region so that Cambodians could benefit.

Duong Pov, deputy provincial governor, said so far, 100 out of more than 800 families had accepted the full compensation package on offer.

“The development is in the national interest . . . and the dam is already about 30 per cent complete, so we cannot go back.”

NGO law in crosshairs

1 Jul
Source: Phnom Phenh Post, By Pech Sotheary and Ethan Harfenist,Wed, 1 July 2015
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Demonstrators shout slogans at the National Assembly yesterday morning during a protest against the proposed NGO law. Vireak Mai

Despite the deployment of law enforcement officials across the capital in a bid to halt the demonstration, activists yesterday marched as promised to the National Assembly to protest the looming adoption of highly controversial union and NGO laws.

Starting at about 8am, hundreds of land activists, environmentalists, monks, civil society members and ordinary citizens gathered at four starting points: the Niroth pagoda in Chbar Ampov commune, Wat Chak Angre Leu, the 7 January flyover and the French Embassy.

As participants began their march toward the National Assembly, banners and flags in hand, authorities armed with shields and batons quickly began to seize materials and block their paths, leading to verbal altercations and some pushing in the process, though no serious violence was recorded.

In demonstrators’ crosshairs were the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations, or LANGO, as well as a law governing the nation’s trade unions. Both have been widely criticised for vague language many fear will give the government license to broadly inhibit their ability to operate. Both could pass before the month ends.

While the heavy police presence at the staging areas dissuaded a significant percentage of activists, perhaps half continued on to the National Assembly at about 11am, when police began to dissipate.

With music blaring, protesters sang and danced, often with their thumbs down, shouting “No to LANGO”, while lotus petals were thrown and balloons released into the air. At one point, a group of CNRP lawmakers made their way into the crowd to join the demonstrators.

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Protesters are stopped by authorities yesterday as they try to march through the streets of Phnom Penh. Vireak Mai

Police, Guards Block Marches Against NGO Law

1 Jul
Source: The Cambodia Daily, By Kuch Naren and Mech Dara | July 1, 2015

Phnom Penh City Hall made good on its promise to stop a set of planned protest marches Tuesday against a draft law aiming to regulate the country’s NGOs, deploying hundreds of security guards and police around the capital to stop the demonstrators in their tracks.

Hundreds of NGO workers, unionists and activists were planning to converge on the National Assembly from four separate locations to ask lawmakers not to pass the law, despite a threat from the municipality to use “any means” to stop them.

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Protesters scuffle with government security guards during their attempt to march to the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on Tuesday to demonstrate against a proposed law that would regulate NGOs and associations. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

City Hall said any march would be illegal because the organizers had failed to ask for permission. And as promised, it deployed hundreds of government security guards and police wielding shields and batons to each of the four locations where the demonstrators gathered Tuesday morning.

“We tried to tell them not to hold an illegal rally because the law is still under discussion and consultation, so they should not protest because the law is not a law yet,” said City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche.

At the 7 Makara Skybridge on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard, about 200 protesters pushed their way past the first line of security and managed to march about a kilometer toward the city center, but were stopped by a makeshift barricade of police motorcycles. Some of the marchers had their protest banners confiscated.

“These aren’t Cambodian forces…. Their act to block our peaceful rally is unacceptable because they stopped us from voicing our concerns,” said Ouk Pich Samnang, one of the protesters.

“We just want to express our opinions against the NGO law because it will severely restrict the freedom of human beings and rights workers,” he said.

Should the draft become law, said Ou Tepphallin, deputy head of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, “Cambodia will no longer be a democratic country.”

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People protest in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on Tuesday against a proposed law that would regulate the country’s NGOs. (Satoshi Takahashi)

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said authorities detained two protesters who were preparing to march from Meanchey district and took them to the district police station, but later let them go.

Though prevented from marching, about 200 of the protesters regrouped in front of the National Assembly later in the morning, once authorities removed barricades set up around the compound at the end of the morning’s plenary session.

Undeterred by the police clampdown, Mr. Sam Ath said opponents of the NGO law would keep protesting against the legislation until it was withdrawn from parliament or amended to their satisfaction.

“We will continue to agitate like the drizzling rain even if the law is passed until it is amended,” he said. “If it is not changed, the National Assembly does not have to pass the law because it violates the people’s rights and contradicts the Constitution.”

The law would require all NGOs and associations in the country to register with the government in order to keep operating and to file annual reports on their finances and activities. It would also give the executive branch the power to shut them down. Critics fear that overly vague and broad provisions will give the government undue powers to silence its critics.

Lawmakers are scheduled to meet with NGOs at the National Assembly on July 10 to discuss the draft.

Family Convicted of ‘Violence’ Over Land Scuffle

29 Jun
Source: The Cambodia Daily ,By Ben Sokhean | June 29, 2015

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday convicted a couple and their daughter of using violence against a property owner, although the plaintiff dropped his complaint against them last month.

Ly Srea Kheng, 58, has battled tycoon Khun Sear and his eponymous import-export company over a plot of land in Tuol Kok district for the past five years, enduring a campaign of intimidation—allegedly waged by thugs hired by Mr. Sear’s firm—for refusing to accept compensation and move.

In November, Mr. Srea Kheng, along with his wife, daughter and son, were charged with using violence during a 2013 scuffle with the company’s security guards.

After his daughter spent just over five months in jail, Mr. Srea Kheng finally accepted compensation—a $180,000 deal that also saw the company withdraw its complaint against the family over the scuffle.

Contacted Sunday, however, Presiding Judge Svay Tonh said he convicted Mr. Kheng, his wife and their daughter on Thursday and handed each of them a six-month suspended sentence, while dropping the charges against their son.

“I cannot give you more detail,” Judge Tonh said.

Ly Seav Minh, 24, Mr. Kheng’s daughter, said the verdict was a final injustice against the family, who vacated the contested plot earlier this month and moved to Sen Sok district.

“I have a broken heart because we did nothing wrong, but the court still convicted us,” she said.

Ms. Seav Minh said the deal with Mr. Sear was finalized on May 28, with both sides agreeing to drop complaints against the other.

“We decided to leave the land because we received better compensation to create a new life, and we wanted to end this complicated problem,” she said.

Chinese, Local Injured in Land Dispute Clash

29 Jun
Source; The Cambodia Daily,By Ben Sokhean | June 29, 2015

At least two people were injured on Friday when four employees of the Chinese-owned Hameniven Investment company clashed with villagers in Tbong Khmum province over a disputed plot of land, police said Sunday.

The fight broke out on Friday morning after one of Hameniven’s tractors blocked a tractor belonging to the villagers from plowing part of the plot in Dambe district’s Trapaing Pring commune, according to district police chief Hung Kim Hoeun.

“At about 9:30, the company’s tractor blocked the villagers’ tractor. It angered the villagers,” he said.

Mr. Kim Hoeun said that a local resident, Phon Chhoeun, 55—who had grappled with Hameniven employee Chen Qiu En, 35, during the scuffle—was arrested later on Friday in response to a complaint filed by the company.

But after being questioned at the Kompong Cham Provincial Court on Sunday, Mr. Chhoeun was released without charge, the police chief said, adding that Mr. Chen remained at a hospital in neighboring Kratie province.

Chan Sophal, a witness to the brawl, said Mr. Chen had attacked Mr. Chhoeun first.

“At the time, two Chinese guys on a motorbike arrived and the one at the back [Mr. Chen] jumped off the motorbike to attempt to strangle Mr. Chhoeun,” he said.

Mr. Sophal said Mr. Chhoeun then elbowed Mr. Chen in the left eye in self-defense, prompting Mr. Chen to punch him in the face.

“It’s not reasonable that the police arrested him,” he said of Mr. Chhoeun. “He is the victim. Why didn’t the police arrest the Chinese man?”

According to Mr. Kim Hoeun, Mr. Chen suffered injuries to his left eye and his back, while Mr. Chhoeun hurt his neck.

The police chief said Hameniven and the villagers had been quarreling over 260 hectares of the land since the middle of last year, when the company attempted to develop a tobacco and corn plantation in the area.

“We have banned both sides from working on the land and asked them to wait for official resolution,” he said. “But they didn’t listen.”

Company officials could not be reached Sunday.

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