Hundreds of fishermen from Kompong Thom province have accused military police of stealing their catch, local rights group Adhoc reported on Monday.
Representatives of some 400 fishermen filed a complaint with Adhoc on Monday morning, accusing local environmental officials and military police of blocking them from fishing on a community-owned fishing lot on a tributary of the Tonle Sap river in Stung district’s Peam Bang commune.
Samreth Klem, one of six representatives, said Phan Kim Leng, local provincial department of environment officer and son of commune chief Phann Phan, and an unidentified military police officer began barring villagers from the lot in January.
“We want to fish in our public grounds as usual,” Samreth Klem said. He said fishing lot number four was given by the government to the community in 2001.
Villagers said that they depend on the 40-meter-wide, one-kilometer long stretch of water for their survival.
Samreth Klem also alleged that the military police told the fishermen that they were commandeering the river and its catch in order to pay for a new headquarters.
Phann Phan said that his son was innocent of the allegations.
Military police had approached his son seeking permission to fish in the lot to make money to build a new headquarters, but his son had refused, Phann Phan said.
Military police, however, have since helped his son to stop illegal fishing methods in which fishermen use electric currents to stun and catch fish, he said.
“A handful of bad people made this complaint,” Phann Phan said. “My son never got fish from this area, he just protected the fishing ground from [illegal methods like] electrocution.”
Nuon Pheanith, director of the provincial Adhoc office, said the complaint against Phann Phan’s son was thumbprinted by 409 families.
“We will investigate this case and try to get the government’s attention… Any official involvement in stopping these fishermen is illegal,” he said.