Local residents and human rights workers have accused authorities in Kampot province of forcing villagers to sign a statement saying they will abandon their protests against a massive seafront development project. Meanwhile, an international donor agency supporting local fishing communities said it was concerned about the project’s potential effect.
On Oct 6, about 200 residents of Kep Thmei village in Boeung Touk commune prevented trucks of Keo Chea Property Development Company from delivering sand to the coastline where it was being used to fill in 200 hectares of shallow coastal waters, as they fear the project would cut off the community’s access to the sea and damage their fisheries.
Hallam Goad, an adviser at housing and land rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said villagers told his organization that commune officials and local police were summoning the organizers of recent protests to Boeung Touk commune office where they were asked to sign a statement promising to stop protesting.
“There is now a strong sense of fear in the community and feeling of hopelessness,” Mr Goad said.
A Kep Thmei resident, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, said she had heard authorities had a list of 32 people they were asking to come to the commune office.
Seventeen people had been brought in so far, all of whom had reportedly signed statements agreeing to abandon their protest.
“If we don’t, [the police] say they will send us to the court,” she said. “Some people signed already because they were scared.”
Boeung Touk commune police chief Chiv Samith said authorities had summoned some protesters to the commune office, but he claimed that was only to explain the company’s development plans.
He denied villagers were threatened with prosecution if they opposed the project.
“There is no threat,” he said. However, he declined to comment on why the villagers had to sign statements.
The Kep Thmei coast-filling project also borders the 1,000-hectare “Kampot Special Economic Zone,” which has seen several hundred hectares of sea filled in since August 2008 in an effort to turn the shallow coastal zone into an international port with hotels and villas.
Critics of the projects, which were approved by the Council for the Development of Cambodia, say they will damage a unique 24,000-hectare sea-grass ecosystem situated off Kampot province’s coast, which was designated a community fishing zone in 2005.
Jacob Jepsen, deputy head of the Danish International Development Agency, said DANIDA staff visited the area about two weeks ago and the potential effects on the sea-grass ecosystem and fisheries raised concerns.
“It’s important to know what impact a huge project like this has in the area,” Mr Jepsen said, adding that a master plan for managing the area and an environmental impact assessment were now needed.
He said DANIDA, which has spent $3.3 million on Cambodian coastal development projects since 1997—and is the leading development agency for fishing resources —will put the issue on the agenda of the next meeting of international donors working on fisheries, which is scheduled for Nov 14.