Khemara Phoumint City deputy governor Pen Bunchhouy on Tuesday issued a letter to a group of protesters demanding that they vacate the area in front of the Koh Kong Provincial Court by Wednesday, threatening “action” if they refused.
Supporters of three activists from environmental NGO Mother Nature who were charged with threatening to destroy sand dredging barges last month have been demonstrating outside the court intermittently since they were jailed.
In the weeks leading up to their arrest, Sim Samnang, 29; Tri Sovichea, 26; and Sun Mala, 24, led a campaign against a pair of companies they accused of dredging an estuary in Botum Sakor district to the detriment of the environment and a fishing community.
On Monday, the court denied their request for bail.
“If the protesters refuse to move, the municipal authorities will take action to restore public order,” said Mr. Bunchhouy’s letter, which was delivered to the protesters at about 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Reached by telephone, Mr. Bunchhouy said authorities would not make arrests, but would forcibly move the protesters if necessary.
“We will not arrest these people,” he said. “We are just asking them to move from the place in peace, but in case they refuse, we will use trucks to transport them to their homes.”
The deputy governor also said the protesters were frightening tourists and angering locals.
“We want those people to move from the location outside the court because the tourists are scared that they will march,” he said. “Most of the market vendors submitted letters to us saying they are concerned about a march because it causes them to lose business.”
Sorn Chandara, a Mother Nature activist, said the demonstrators would leave the area today.
“People agreeing to leave does not mean they are scared of arrest, but most of them have gotten sick, so we will let them rest for a week and then we will continue our mass protest again,” he said.
On Tuesday, about 100 people gathered in front of the court before attempting to march to the provincial governor’s house to deliver a petition requesting that he release the activists, according to Hour In, a monitor for rights group Licadho.
But they were blocked by dozens of police and military police for about an hour, Mr. In said, before finally being allowed to submit the petition to the provincial administration office.
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