NGO workers said Sunday that three ethnic minority villagers in Kratie province have been illegally detained for one month, accused of clearing half a hectare of forest.
Human rights workers claimed the three are being persecuted while powerful individuals are free to clear land in the province as they choose.
Chuon Chan Dach, of Snuol district, was jailed at the provincial prison on Feb 6 along with his wife, son and son-in-law, though the 15-year-old son was released two weeks ago due to his age, said Ek Yothin, NGO Forum’s indigenous minority rights project officer.
“The arrest was made illegally, because there was no arrest warrant,” Ek Yothin said. “They have been detained in prison illegally without trial.” Ek Yothin added that Chuon Chan Dach, who he said previously campaigned to protect forest in the district from destruction, legitimately cleared a modest amount of land.
“His right to clear land for shifting cultivation is protected under the 2001 Land Law,” Ek Yothin said.
But Snuol district governor Iv Saphum said Chuon Chan Dach had been legitimately arrested for a series of forestry crimes. “He always incites other people to grab forest in various places to clear for business activities,” the governor said.
Ek Yothin said that although Chuon Chan Dach’s clearing is legal, a large adjacent acacia plantation in the same district is allegedly illegal.
“Land in the same district is cleared on a much larger scale by powerful and well-connected people,” Ek Yothin said.
Both Iv Saphum and Kratie provincial forestry administration Chief Chheang Tola denied any knowledge of the acacia plantation.
A 50-year-old resident of Prek Kdei village in Snuol commune, where Chuon Chan Dach is from, said that more than 100 villagers have thumbprinted a complaint to be sent to provincial and forestry administration officials.
“He was arrested because he has been working hard for forestry protection,” the woman said on condition of anonymity.
“He confiscated a lot of machines and chainsaws from smugglers who are relatives of commune and district authorities,” she added.