Three more fisheries officials have been removed from office, days after Prime Minister Hun Sen said he was tired of them “sucking the blood of local fishermen.”
The three, who had been employed in Siem Reap, are Fisheries Office Director Tang Chenda, his deputy Chhuon Hok, and Seng Sara, a fisheries inspection official.
Officials said the three were removed because they had been too quick to arrest local fishermen for alleged fishing infractions, without enough evidence.
“They put pressure, arrested and imprisoned the people,” said Nao Thuok, director of the fisheries department for the Ministry of Agriculture. In fact, he said, “the people were not guilty enough for imprisonment.”
Tang Chenda, the director, has been shifted to another job at the Agriculture Ministry and replaced by Cheng Vibol Rith, another deputy, according to Tat Bunchoeun, Siem Reap agricultural department director. The other two have been suspended.
The issue of fishing rights has become increasingly contentious in recent weeks.
Since 1989, the government has auctioned off the right to fish certain areas of the Tonle Sap and other waterways—so-called “fishing lots”—to commercial fishermen.
Lot owners are supposed to allow villagers to fish in designated areas within the lots, but fishermen have complained they are prevented from doing so, sometimes by armed guards. In some cases, fishermen say, their boats and nets have been confiscated or destroyed.
Scores of village fishermen and their families have come to Phnom Penh in recent months to protest the alleged abuses.
Hoping to address the growing problem, Hun Sen last month ordered fisheries officials to take large portions of five lots in Siem Reap province away from their owners and open them up to local fishermen.
When Ly Kim Han, then the director of the ministry’s fishing department, protested that the law wouldn’t allow him to do so, Hun Sen fired him Oct 25.
The three Siem Reap officials were removed Nov 4, the same day Hun Sen apologized to the public for what he called widespread abuses inside the fisheries department. In that speech, broadcast on Apsara Radio, he said if he were a disgruntled fisherman, he would demonstrate.
Two nights later, about 50 fishermen set fire to a fishing lot owner’s office and equipment in Kandal province.