Svay Rieng provincial authorities prevented villagers from attending a public forum held by the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Association, citing lack of security, rights workers and officials said Thursday.
“The province wants them to [change] the location,” Chan Sovann, secretary-general of the Svay Rieng provincial office, said by phone Thursday. “This a security reason, not blockage.”
Association President Mom Sarin said about 20 local and military police armed with AK-47s dispersed villagers gathered for the forum, preventing them from exercising their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under the Constitution.
“It is disturbance of intention. There is no other reason,” he said.
Mom Sarin submitted a letter to provincial Governor Chieng Am on April 22 asking for permission to hold a forum to discuss the rights of the Khmer Krom in Chantrea district’s Chiphou commune, about 20 km from the Cambodian-Vietnamese border.
The territory known as Kampuchea Krom, once part of Cambodia, was officially ceded to Vietnam in 1949. Khmer Krom organizations have long accused Vietnam of mistreating ethnic Khmers in the region.
Mom Sarin said the governor did not reply to his proposal for the forum, but Chan Sovann agreed it could go ahead as scheduled.
About 100 villagers turned up for the meeting at 9 am, after which Chan Sovann phoned Mom Sarin asking him to change the location of the forum 40 km further into Cambodian territory or risk a crackdown, Mom Sarin said.
A few minutes later, local and military police arrived and dispersed the villagers, saying the forum was being held without permission from the province, Mom Sarin said.
Chan Sovann confirmed Thursday that he had ordered the forum canceled before hanging up.
Calls to Governor Chieng Am went unanswered Thursday.
Provincial police Chief Soth Nody said he could not comment on the incident. “I just came back from Vietnam. I do not know about this,” he said.
Mom Sarin said he will make an appointment to meet Chieng Am and demand an explanation before taking legal action.