Sihanoukville Governor Say Hak said Monday that he has submitted evidence to the municipal court alleging that a Cambodian Center for Human Rights official incited villagers to form a breakaway zone independent of government rule.
Say Hak accused Chhim Savuth, municipal coordinator for the prominent human rights group, of persuading residents of Mittapheap district to illegally create an autonomous village, shortly before hundreds of police and soldiers evicted them from their homes last month.
The Village Number 6 residents themselves have provided the evidence, in the wake of their forced eviction from the disputed land on which they lived, Say Hak said.
“The documents come from the villagers claiming they created a village under the instruction of the CCHR,” he added.
Svay Sisaruth, director of the Sihanoukville Municipal Court, and Meas Sopheak, the court’s chief prosecutor, both said that they were unaware of Say Hak’s allegations against Chhim Savuth.
Chhim Savuth, who is also CCHR coordinator for Kampot province, said he helped the villagers outline a request for official government recognition of their community in the days leading up to the eviction, in a bid to ensure the residents’ rights to remain on the land.
This request was to have been submitted to local authorities, and was in no way illegal, he said.
“Villagers can form a community and request approval from the authorities and the Ministry of Interior,” he said. “If [the court] abides by the law, I am not afraid,” he added.
On April 20, around 150 armed police and military police clashed with villagers during the eviction and arrested of 13 men for destruction of property and battery with injury.
Villagers alleged that officials stormed the village from three sides, fired volleys from AK-47s into the ground, struck an elderly villager and set fire to residents’ houses.
Police have denied the allegations of excessive force.
Ou Virak, president of the CCHR, also denied that Chhim Savuth had done anything illegal and said he hoped that Say Hak would drop his complaint.
“Such threats to human rights activists are not a good sign for Cambodia,” he said.
(Additional reporting by James Welsh)