Representatives of a group known as Cambodia Youth Movement 157, which counts Defense Ministry officials among its leadership, on Sunday handed out money to eviction-threatened indigenous families in Koh Kong province’s Areng Valley on behalf of Hun Manet, the son of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The head of the “youth” group, Moeung Ponlork—a member of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) since 1996, according to his Facebook page—said Monday that the organization had been raising funds to help communities in remote Thma Baing district, where locals and environmental activists have protested loudly over a planned hydropower dam that would force hundreds of ethnic Chong families off their ancestral land.
Mr. Ponlork said Movement 157 delivered aid packages to more than 450 families that included medicine, cloth and cash, and was planning to build four new primary schools in the valley.
“We brought gifts to donate to 463 families, including one sarong, a krama, a package of medicine and 20,000 riel [about $5] for each family,” he said.
The cash, he said, had been distributed on behalf of Mr. Manet, the prime minister’s son and an RCAF lieutenant general.
“The cash gifts of 20,000 riel were gifts from His Excellency Hun Manet and Her Excellency [Mr. Manet’s wife],” Mr. Ponlork said, though he denied that Mr. Manet, or the ruling CPP, was formally associated with Movement 157, many of whose members are middle-aged and wear all-black uniforms.
“We are not affiliated with any political party…. We do humanitarian work,” he said, refusing to answer questions about his day job.
Lieutenant General Tea Sokha, chief of maritime security at Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville and the son of Navy Commander Tea Vinh, was also among the group’s delegates to the valley over the weekend.
Contacted Monday, Lt. Gen. Sokha said he was the head of the group in Sihanoukville. He said Mr. Ponlork was a colleague at the Defense Ministry, but could not recall what position he held.
Lt. Gen. Sokha also said there was nothing political about the visit.
“Our group, the Cambodia Youth Movement 157, went there to help villagers in a humanitarian capacity—it was not related to our individual political persuasions,” he said.
Mo Kimry, a representative of local environmental group Mother Nature—whose Spanish co-founder, Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, was deported in February—said there was little doubt that the youth group was affiliated with the CPP.
“Cambodia Youth Movement 157 is on the CPP’s side and their officials have power because… authorities [and] police accompanied them with luxury vehicles,” he said.
“I think they are trying to regain lost popularity.”