Armed police and soldiers blocked Voice of Democracy radio from hosting a public forum on land rights in Ratanakkiri province’s Kong Yu village Saturday, the site of a long-running land dispute between minority villagers and Finance Minister Keat Chhon’s sister Keat Kolney, rights workers said Sunday.
Pa Nguon Teang, executive director of Voice of Democracy, a radio program created by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, said 40 armed police, soldiers, and military police stopped him and nine other rights workers about a kilometer from O’Yadaw district town.
“They are trying to hide the truth,” he said of the effort to block the forum. The standoff with police lasted from 6:30 am until 10 am, he added.
Kit Touch, a program officer at the Community Legal Education Center, which is helping represent Jarai villagers who claim they were cheated out of 450 hectares of land to make way for a rubber plantation run by Keat Kolney, said several hundred villagers had been waiting to participate in the forum.
Local authorities, he said, “don’t want us to find real information.”
Chhe Vibol, Keat Kolney’s lawyer, denied that his client had anything to do with the forum being blocked.
“These people did not ask permission from the Ministry of Interior first. That’s why the authorities stopped them,” he said.
Ratanakkiri Governor Moung Poy said VOD contacted him, but he referred the group to the Ministry of Interior because, he claimed, VOD is only allowed to hold meetings in Phnom Penh.
“I do not reject their request but I asked them to follow the Interior Ministry’s instructions,” he said.
“Their activity in our province is not good. They want to make problems in our province, and they want our minorities to argue with each other,” he added.
Pa Nguon Teang maintained that VOD was not legally obligated to get permission from the Ministry of Interior to hold a forum.
“We just inform the local authorities. That’s our obligation,” he said.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak declined to comment on whether VOD needed his ministry’s permission.