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NGOs want charges dropped

21 Aug

By Meas Sokchea, The Pnhom Penh Post, 21 August 2014

A member of the security forces that attempted to clear Freedom Park last month is rushed away after being attacked by protesters

A member of the security forces that attempted to clear Freedom Park last month is rushed away after being attacked by protesters. Heng Chivoan

Charges brought against opposition members for their alleged role in inciting violence against district security guards during a protest at Freedom Park last month were politically motivated and should be dropped, civil society leaders said yesterday.

Speaking at a press conference organised by the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, leading human rights workers told reporters that, according to the criminal code, the charges should be dropped.

Ny Chakrya, a senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, said there was “not enough evidence” to charge the Cambodia National Rescue Party members.

On July 15, a protest organised by the CNRP turned violent after Daun Penh district security guards attempted to physically disperse demonstrators calling for the opening of the long-closed park, only to see many of their ranks beaten themselves. Seven lawmakers and several CNRP members were charged in the aftermath of the violence for allegedly inciting it, though many argue security struck first.

“If we look at the demonstrators, they had plastic flag poles, but the security forces had wooden batons,” Chakrya said. “This shows [guards] were prepared to commit violence.”

CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha was summonsed to court shortly after the lawmakers and an activist were bailed in July, followed by the arrests of a number of party members, three of whom are in prison.

In a statement yesterday, the rights group Licadho decried the fact that the jailed activists’ families were barred from visiting.

“These restrictions are wholly unnecessary, cruel and seemingly politically motivated,” said Licadho’s Am Sam Ath.

Koul Panha, executive director of election watchdog Comfrel, said the ruling Cambodian People’s Party was using the courts to apply political pressure amid ongoing negotiations over amendments to the constitution and other laws agreed to on July 22.

“I guess that they are using the courts for their political interests, to intimidate [CNRP] youths,” he said.

But Council of Ministers spokesman Tith Sothea dismissed the claims, saying “crimes must be resolved according to the law”.

Land at risk: Families in Kratie wary over moves

21 Aug

By Pech Sotheary, The Pnhom Penh Post, 21 August 2014

Kratie town and provincial administrators met with representatives of families living alongside Kratie Town Hall yesterday after receiving a petition expressing villagers’ concern that the town hall planned to expand its premises onto their land.

Villager Mov Samnang said yesterday that families had lived in the area since 1979 and were given their current plots by the city when displaced by the town hall’s construction in 1997, but that recent moves to close a dividing path had rekindled worries that their untitled plots would be annexed.

“They want to grab all the land,” he said.

Hang Chandy, Kratie town governor, said that the land in question was listed as town property, and as such, “if we give it to them, we have to be responsible, so we must have a meeting and make a correct report to get the approval from the higher level”.

 

Woman Arrested in Kampot Land Dispute

21 Aug

By Sek Oudom, The Cambodia Daily, 21 August 2014

English5

Police Seize Rosewood Hidden in Fuel Tanker

21 Aug

By Hay Pisey, The Cambodia Daily, 21 August 2014

English4

 

Official Rejects Vietnam’s Reports of Punishment for Flag Burners

21 Aug

By Mech dara, The Cambodia Daily, 21 August 2014

English1

Police Officials Quiz Villagers After Protest in Pnhom Penh

21 Aug

By Aun Pheap, The Cambodia Daily, 21 August 2014

Englih2

Kratie officials pledge solution

21 Aug

By Pech Sotheary, The Pnhom Penh Post, 20 August 2014

A district security guard shocks a protester in the back as he flees on Monday as a group of Kratie villagers were dispersed

A district security guard shocks a protester in the back as he flees on Monday as a group of Kratie villagers were dispersed after attempting to take their case to the prime minister’s house in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

A day after Prime Minister Hun Sen warned provincial-level officials that he had “no patience” left for inaction on land disputes, Kratie authorities set the wheels in motion for a resolution to local villagers’ long-term dispute with a South Korean agro firm.

Deputy Provincial Governor Khan Chamnan met yesterday with the Snuol district villagers at Phnom Penh’s Samaki Rainsey pagoda, where they have been living for the past month, to inform them that the dispute could be settled soon.

“The national cadastral committee has already set the schedule. On the morning of August 26, [the committee] will meet the company, and in the afternoon, they will meet the people. On August 27, they will go down to the disputed areas; so it is in the process of being settled for the people [who have been] asking for intervention from Prime Minister Hun Sen,” Chamnan said.

Suon Vicheka, a village representative, said that following Chamnan’s visit the villagers had agreed to return home on Friday or Saturday so they could take part in the talks.

But, he said, an agreement to any settlement would be based on eight conditions, including that land already measured be given to villagers along with official land titles.

Vicheka added that if a deal was not reached, the villagers would return and seek further intervention from Hun Sen.

Chamnan’s visit to the pagoda came a day after at least 10 of the villagers, including a 4-year-old child, were injured by security forces armed with electric batons as they attempted to march to Hun Sen’s home to seek intervention.

The villagers claim they started living on the disputed land in Snuol commune in 2000, before Horizon Agriculture Development Company moved in to set up a cassava and pepper plantation.

In his speech on Monday, the premier called on officials to stop being “lazy” and instead seek solutions.

Ny Chariya, an investigator with rights group Adhoc, said that without intervention from the top, the problem would intensify. “Those [lower-ranking] officers create the social crisis, not the people,” he said.

Lao official, developer differ over dam’s status

21 Aug

By Laignee Barron and Vong Sokheng, The Pnhom Penh Post, 20 August 2014

The Lao government and the builders of its Don Sahong dam can’t seem to get their story straight, according to conflicting accounts offered by the two parties yesterday.

Newly appointed Laotian Ambassador Prasith Sayasith told Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong in a meeting that Laos had suspended construction of the controversial hydropower dam.

“Laos is taking efforts to avoid any negative environmental impact on the Mekong River,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong.

Contrary to the claim, however, Malaysian dam developers Mega First Corporation Berhad said construction was going ahead as planned.

“I am at the project site and I can advise you that construction has not been suspended” except for a “temporary” halt due to flooding, said Don Sahong environmental manager Peter Hawkins.

Preparatory work began on the 260-megawatt Don Sahong over a year ago, with full-scale construction slated to begin in December, according to announcements from Laos’ Ministry of Energy and Mines.

But conservationists maintain that the dam should have already ceased construction work after Laos agreed in June to submit the dam to prior consultation among the Mekong Basin governments

“The prior consultation process, from our point of view, must be carried out before [any] decision to proceed with a dam,” said Pianporn Deetes, a coordinator with International Rivers.

Critics have long held that the proposed dam would pitch the region into further food insecurity by blocking the only channel available for dry season fish migration, as well as potentially decimate the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin.

According to communications adviser for the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission Surasak Galahan, after agreeing to the prior consultation process, “as a courtesy, Lao PDR [said it] would not carry out construction during the prior consultation process”.

When that consultative period begins and construction stops is a matter of debate.

Knowing your audience

21 Aug

By Kevin Ponniah and Vong Sokheng, The PnhomPenh Post, 2014

A day after National Assembly president Heng Samrin assured Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in Hanoi that the government would take strict measures to quell further “extremist” Khmer Krom protests, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong reportedly told demonstration leaders yesterday that the government shared their concerns.

Observers have said the differing statements highlight attempts by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to walk a diplomatic tightrope by distancing itself from widespread ire towards Vietnam, while at the same time avoiding giving offence to the party’s historical partner.

According to the leaders of groups invited to a private meeting at Namhong’s office yesterday afternoon, the foreign minister asked activists to postpone protests outside the Vietnamese Embassy – which occurred for three consecutive days last week – in order to allow time for a solution to be found.

Namhong said that although the government had passed petitions on to Vietnam on behalf of demonstrators, it was still waiting for a response, the activists said.

But according to Sok Sothea of the Khmer Youth Alliance for Democracy, the minister had also agreed with protesters that Vietnam “could not change history”.

Students, monks and Khmer Krom activists have been calling on an embassy spokesman to apologise for saying Vietnam had enjoyed sovereignty over the former Kampuchea Krom provinces in what is now lower Vietnam long before they were ceded by the French in 1949.

Demonstrators burned a flag during a protest outside the embassy last week, earning a swift rebuke from the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry, which called on Phnom Penh to take action to stop the “perverse” behaviour.

That was backed up by Nguyen directly to Samrin on Monday. According to Vietnamese media reports, Samrin painted the protesters as aligned with fringe, extremist groups in response.

But Foreign Minister Namhong “told us that burning flags during demonstrations is normal in a democratic country”, youth group leader Sothea said of yesterday’s meeting.

“Throughout the meeting, the government expressed the will to support our activities.… We accept their request to postpone protests, but our stance is still to demand that [Vietnam] apologise to Cambodian people and recognise history.”

Thach Setha, an opposition party official who attended the meeting as head of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, confirmed that Namhong had delivered a positive message.

“The meeting was based in the spirit of Khmer and Khmer, and the government has not ignored our protests, because history cannot be changed,” he said.

That message was very different from the one reportedly delivered by Samrin to Nguyen.

“Samrin said the government of Cambodia regretted the incident and said it was perpetrated by a small group of extremists who were provoked by individuals who suffer a warped sense of history,” Vietnam’s Thanh Nien newspaper reported.

“He added that he and the Cambodian parliament were displeased with the action and have since taken strict measures to prevent similar actions.”

Neither Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong nor several ruling party lawmakers could be reached for comment.

On Friday, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak defended the demonstrators on radio, saying they were “simply expressing their opinions in a democratic country”.

“Cambodia is different from Vietnam.… Cambodia allows freedom of expression under the framework of the law,” he told Radio Free Asia.

Many Cambodian nationalists praised the comments, as did Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Sam Rainsy.

But political commentator Ou Virak yesterday said the government was “pandering” to whichever audience it was facing over the issue, adding that Samrin and Namhong’s differing messages would have been part of a “calculated move”.

“I think the embassy spokesperson is putting the government in a very difficult situation,” he said. “I think the CPP is pretty reluctant to condemn the Vietnam government because of the long-term relationship. They are in a very tough position.”

Mao Pises, who leads the Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals and Students, which helped organise the protests, said despite the mixed messages, demonstrators “will wait and see” what happens.

“I think, in the end, the Cambodian government will not do as the Vietnamese government wants them to do, because I know they are clever and they will not follow,” he said.

“Then again, Mr Heng Samrin might have some pressure from the Vietnamese … personally, and also he cannot say anything. He just says ‘yes, yes, yes’ to whatever they request.”

CNRP seeks prison visit

21 Aug

By Pech Sotheary, The Pnhom Penh Post, 20 August 2014

A resident of Kampong Chhnang province’s Lorpeang village is arrested during a protest over a land dispute with KDC International on August 12

A resident of Kampong Chhnang province’s Lorpeang village is arrested during a protest over a land dispute with KDC International on August 12. Opposition lawmakers plan to visit the jailed villagers. Heng Chivoan

The National Assembly yesterday agreed to forward to the Ministry of Interior a request from five Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers to visit the five Lorpeang villagers jailed over their involvement in their ongoing land dispute with KDC International.

According to the August 18 letter, sent to Minister of Interior Sar Kheng through acting National Assembly President Nguon Nhel, permission was sought by CNRP lawmakers Ho Vann, Men Sothavarin, Phy Vanndara, Ngao Kimcheang and Ngim Nheng to visit the villagers at the Kampong Chhnang Provincial Prison on August 21.

Vann said the purpose of the visit would be to further investigate the villagers’ dispute with the agri-business – owned by the wife of Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem – which began in 2002.

“After the visit, we will protest for the release of those arrested villagers, and we will protest in order to help them to get back their land. We have a plan, and as a first step, we have to go [to the prison].”

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached yesterday, but Kuy Bunsorn, director of the ministry’s prisons department, said that he had not yet received the request.

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