District authorities in Preah Vihear province yesterday said they were investigating a one-star general’s NGO whose staff villagers have accused of extortion, beatings and even rape.
“We are investigating this issue,” Choam Ksan district governor Sok Hai said. “We don’t just investigate the human rights abuses but we also investigate the social land concession.”
The government granted Brigadier General Pen Lim’s NGO, the Organization for Research and Curbing Drugs and AIDS, a 556-hectare concession in Kantuot commune in 2007.
The following year, Cambodians began flocking to the concession to take the general up on his offer of free farmland. Residents, however, have accused NGO staff of demanding money for land that never came and beating them for trying to bring their complaints to local authorities. Some residents have also accused staff of raping their children.
Following a two-day visit to the concession, Chan Soveth, chief monitor for the human rights group Adhoc, said the 20 or so residents he met all corroborated those claims.
“All the people I met, they’re afraid…because the organization makes threats,” Mr Soveth said.
He said residents were living in poor conditions, lacking drinking water and enough land to feed themselves.
Mr Soveth said he would be wrapping up his trip with a visit to the provincial court–where he said residents have filed nearly a dozen complaints despite the NGO’s threats–to spur officials there into pursuing the case.
Brig Gen Lim, who met with Mr Soveth, again denied any wrongdoing yesterday.
“I would like to deny all these accusations,” he said. “We did not abuse any human rights or threaten the people here.”
He said he had also built the community a pagoda, health facility and schools, much of it at his own expense. Mr Soveth said he visited one of the schools and found it empty for the lack of teachers.
Sareth Boramy, who oversees social land concessions at the Ministry of Land Management, said the NGO had at the very least violated a pair of government sub-decrees by operating the concession without a completed application.
Should their investigation corroborate any of the allegations, Mr Hai, the district governor, said authorities would take “legal action,” but declined to elaborate.