Despite Warnings, Adhoc To March in R’kiri

Authorities in Ratanakkiri pro­vince said Tuesday they would block a peaceful march planned for today by human rights workers and local villagers to protest against illegal logging and land grabbing.

The rights group Adhoc said it in­tended to lead the march in support of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s calls for an end to land and forest crimes.

Adhoc’s Provincial Coordinator Pen Bonnar said a public meeting held on the same subject Tuesday in the provincial capital Banlung had proceeded without incident, and that the march would go ahead today.

Pen Bonnar said that since the government ordered a moratorium on logging in 2001, the prime minister had several times called for an end to illegal logging practices. In a 2005 speech, Hun Sen also warned that land grabbing could provoke general unrest.

“We are determined to respect Samdech Prime Minister’s orders,” Pen Bonnar said.

“Clearing forest land, cutting down luxury wood and taking state land are a mockery to the Prime Minister’s orders,” he said.

Deputy Provincial Governor Chey Sayoeun said the meeting organized by Adhoc at the Lina Ratanak restaurant in the provincial capital Banlung had been permitted because it had occurred at a single location.

Holding a protest march in the streets of Banlung is a different matter as it is a public safety issue, Chey Sayoeun said.

“If someone throws a grenade, they will accuse authorities of being irresponsible,” he said. “If [Pen Bon­nar] still wants to defeat me, I will not agree and use measures to crack down,” he added.

Pen Bonnar said 160 villagers as well as several commune and district officials had attended Tuesday’s meeting. Around 30 unarmed police officers stood outside, he said.

Around 160 people are also ex­pected to take part in today’s plan­ned 4 to 5 km march from the Lina Ratanak restaurant to the provincial government and forestry offices, Pen Bonnar said.

Deputy Provincial Governor Bou Lam denied that local authorities had shown any disrespect for Hun Sen’s wishes to protect forests and end land grabbing, and called Pen Bonnar’s remarks “wrong and unjust.”

However, Bou Lam conceded that Ratanakkiri suffered serious problems concerning land issues, adding that authorities were working to address them.

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