Cham Fishermen Claim Attack by VN Poachers

Hundreds of ethnic Cham fishermen rallied in Kampot City yesterday morning after a night of hostility off the Cambodian coast where two of their boats were reportedly rammed by a pair of Vietnamese fishing vessels, representatives of the fishermen said.

Joined by their families, the fishermen expressed outrage that alleged poachers had gone on a rampage after being released on Saturday night by local fisheries authorities. The event apparently compounded anger at what local fisherman said was consistent poaching by sometimes hostile Vietnamese fishermen.

Provincial fisheries officials impounded the two Vietnamese boats on Dec 21 after local Cham fishermen claimed their crews had been illegally fishing in Cambodian waters.

But the boats were subsequently released at about 7:30 pm on Saturday, provincial governor Khoy Khun Hour said yesterday.

Ly Karim, a 28-year-old fisherman from Troeuy Koh commune, said yesterday that as soon as the Vietnamese crews received their boats back they took off after the local fishing fleet whose members had reported them to authorities last week.

“Two of our Khmer Cham boats were chased and rammed by big Vietnamese boats with 300cc engines. Then they jumped into our small wooden fishing boats and stole batteries, fishing nets, walkie-talkies and lamps,” Mr Karim said, adding that the Vietnamese fishermen also threw blunt objects.

“The Vietnamese fishermen hit us using stones, glass bottles, cutting boards and ice saws that they threw at our boats,” he said. “They wanted to take revenge against our fishermen who reported their actions to fisheries officers.”

Local and national fisheries officials could not be reached yesterday and Vietnamese Embassy officials were also unavailable.

Mr Khun Hour, the provincial governor, said he had ordered an investigation to find out why the Vietnamese fishing boats had been released on Saturday night.

“We are investigating why the fisheries officers released these boats at night time causing this problem,” Mr Khun Hour said, adding that he was skeptical of the Cham fishermen’s claims.

“When we heard about the Vietnamese boats chasing and crashing into our fishing boats, police and fisheries officers went out to help our fishing boats for about three hours but did not see any boats that had been crashed into or sunk.”

“I love to help my people if they have a problem but we do not 100 percent believe [the Cham fishermen]. Why is it only the fishermen from Troeuy Koh commune have a problem with the Vietnamese fishing boats?”

Mann Ly, a member of the Cham community in Troeuy Koh commune, said the ethnic villagers had rallied outside their commune office to denounce the decision to release the two Vietnamese fishing boats.

“We rallied today to inform our local authorities that the Vietnamese boats that were released [Saturday night] went and chased our fishing boats,” Mr Ly said.

Mr Ly said two fishermen had been injured in the attack, including a man who was wounded by a glass bottle and another who was hit by a cutting board.

Another fisherman, Neak Sen, vowed yesterday that the villagers would take their protest to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence unless local authorities adequately addressed their complaints about the Vietnamese fishermen.

He said Saturday night was the third time that Vietnamese fishermen had confronted the Cham fishermen aggressively in Cambodian waters.

Troeuy Koh commune chief Sun Pov said yesterday that he had sought to calm the Cham protesters, asking them to allow local authorities to review their complaint before they took it to the prime minister.

 

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