Commune chief says NGO behind protest

Source: Phnom Penh Post

Community members gather outside Pate commune hall on Monday in Ratanakiri province. Photo supplied

A day after a group of some 700 Jarai ethnic villagers protested the operations of mining firm Angkor Gold in Ratanakkiri, alleging the company had grabbed their land, Pate commune authorities yesterday said they were investigating who was behind the “politically motivated” demonstration.

Once a long-time human rights monitor for Adhoc and frequent government critic, especially when it came to the management of natural resources, Chhay Thy, now a CPP member and Pate commune chief, claimed the opposition party and an NGO were the driving force behind the protest.

Alleging Angkor Gold had taken their land for gold mining exploration, the villagers from Korng Thom village in O’Yadav district on Monday gathered at the Pate Commune Hall to demand solutions from authorities. Villagers also accused the company of contaminating the water supply.

“This case is not caused by the effects from the gold mine,” Thy said. “It is politically motivated for political gain. It is truly a political case, which was conducted as a political movement for disorder.”

Thy did not elaborate, saying he did not actually know which alleged NGO was involved. He was elected in June, replacing the only opposition commune chief in Ratanakkiri province.

Souy Yung, Pate commune police chief, said police were investigating the case and already had leads on which NGO might be behind it, but he also would not disclose a name.

“The knowledge of our villagers remains limited, so they are vulnerable to any incitement,” he said.

Roman Khamphorn, Pate second deputy commune chief from the CNRP, disputed those claims, saying the protest was sparked by villagers’ fears of losing forest and land to the company.

According to Khamphorn, a staffer from the NGO Khmerleu – also called the Highlanders Association – had attended the protest but was not involved in any activity that would qualify as “incitement”.

On Monday, the Facebook page of former Commune Chief Romam Yout was hacked and photos of the protest were posted on his page, along with information about the demonstration.

Yout said he had filed a complaint with police to find the perpetrators.

He added that Angkor Gold has had a presence in Pate commune since 2015, but the company had recently moved its exploration activities to Korng Thom village, from neighbouring Plang village, which prompted the protest.

“They gathered at the commune hall to protest [in order] to prevent the company from performing gold exploration in their farming land,” he said. However, John-Paul Dau, vice president for operations at Angkor Gold, claimed the company had not been exploring in that particular area for more than two years, with its current exploration activities “quite far from Korng Thom”. The company has a licence for exploration across more than 200 square kilometres in O’Yadav district.

Dau, who was not in the area during the protest, denied the allegations of land-grabbing, and said that the company also believed there was an NGO behind the demonstration, though he didn’t provide a name.

“It seems that groups instigating these communities seem to be anti-development, anti-mining . . . and almost anti-government,” he said.

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