Disputes over fishing rights have flared in Battambang province, with police cracking down and temporarily detaining villagers for allegedly encroaching on fishing lots, officials said.
Mak Sithirith, environmental coordinator for NGO Forum, an umbrella group of NGOs, called the police crackdown an act of aggression against a traditional way of life.
“It is unfair that villagers are not allowed to fish in areas near their villages to eke out a living,” he said Thursday.
But Heng Chantha, Battambang provincial police chief, said that police, including military police, have been called in because a fishing lot owner complained 300 villagers were illegally fishing in his lot on Sangke River in Ek Phnom district.
He said about 30 police converged in January to stop the villagers from fishing in fishing lot 8. The police chief claimed about 50 angry villagers began chasing the police with knives.
A policeman fired into the ground, but the bullet ricocheted and accidentally wounded a villager, according to police. Heng Chantha said some 15 villagers from Peam Ek commune were detained but released the next day following a promise not to fish again in the lot. Then, in late January, about 10 Preak Norin commune villagers were detained for two days for encroaching in the lot, Heng Chantha said.
The dispute still has not been resolved, officials said. Mak Sithirith said 8,278 fishing families in five communes in the area have disputes with fishing lot owners. According to officials, 203 million riel ($53,000) was bid for fishing lot 8 this year, nearly triple the last bid. The owners of the lot were not identified.
Two weeks ago, the NGO Forum issued a report accusing provincial officials in Stung Treng of denying fishing access to local villagers by selling off fish spawning areas to private companies. Provincial officials acknowledged the sales had occurred, but maintained it had not occurred during the spawning season.