Koh Kong province villagers have denied claims by WildAid that they staged a riot against the environmental NGO and attempted to douse one of its advisers with gasoline, an official with rights group Adhoc said Thursday.
Adhoc and Koh Kong Provincial Governor Yuth Phouthang have both accused WildAid of involvement in the torching of several villagers’ abodes on Saturday, two days before the alleged riot occurred on Monday.
Villagers have told Adhoc that they were unarmed and peaceful during the protest against WildAid, said By Sopheap, Adhoc provincial coordinator, on Thursday.
“The villagers who came to our office in Koh Kong town reported that they were unarmed and did not attempt to douse gasoline or to burn the WildAid camp and its staff,” he said.
“The villagers only wondered why WildAid burned their homes down and why WildAid is going to build an office in the place where the villagers are prohibited,” By Sopheap said.
The owners of the three dwellings were not at home on Saturday when more than 10 individuals, including four WildAid staffers, provincial forestry officials and military police, arrived at Koh Por village, Mondol Seima district, By Sopheap said Wednesday.
WildAid staff claimed that 13 of the 100 houses in the village were located within protected forest, and officials doused three with gasoline and set them on fire, By Sopheap said.
In a statement Wednesday, WildAid Country Director Suwanna Gauntlett said that during a Monday riot, which was staged in defense of an illegal logging operation, 80 people who had arrived in motorboats became violent.
A protest leader “attempted to douse the WildAid adviser with fuel,” she wrote. Gauntlett did not discuss whether her NGO’s staff had been involved in razing dwellings.
Staff from Yuth Phouthang’s office have concluded that WildAid staffers did burn down villagers’ homes, Yuth Phouthang said Thursday.
He added that his officials are seeking a relocation site for 32 families in the village who have been accused of living in protected forest.
“The majority of those villagers are mobile people who frequently move from one place to another,” he said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said no request had been made to the ministry to clear the houses.
WildAid did not respond to e-mailed requests for comment Thursday.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)