Police Arrest, Release Activist In Koh Kong

Police in Koh Kong province arrested and released an activist on Saturday who helped families organize a roadblock against a Chinese company they accuse of stealing their farms.

At least 100 people had since Friday been blocking a road leading to the $3.8 billion, 45,000-hectare tourism complex that China’s Union Development Group is building in the middle of the province’s Botum Sakor National Park. About 1,000 families have already been evicted to make way for the project and at least 100 more are demanding fair compensation for farmland they have lost.

Mak Sovannara, the province’s minor crimes deputy police chief, said that about 50 police and military police were sent to the scene at about 6 a.m. on Saturday to break up the roadblock and that activist Soth Piseth was taken into custody for trying to stop the officers from carrying out their orders.

“We deployed about 50 police and military police to provide security for the company because we were afraid the protesters would destroy the company’s property,” he said.

As for Mr. Piseth, he said, “We did not arrest that man. We just brought him in for questioning because he prevented my authorities from doing their job. But I let him go back home the same day.”

Mr. Piseth, an official with the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force, said about 150 people blocked the road to demand the return of their farms and were also angered by a recent letter Environment Minister Say Sam Al sent to Prime Minister Hun Sen calling them an “opposition group.”

Mr. Piseth said police arrived with sticks and electric batons and waved them threateningly at the protesters.

“They arrested me when I tried to stop them from using violence on the group of protesters,” he said.

The activist said he was released at about 3 p.m. after signing a letter promising not to block the road or lead any more protests, a pledge he said he had no intention of honoring.

Srun Darith, a deputy director of the environment minister’s cabinet, said Mr. Sam Al did not mean to accuse the protesters of working with the opposition party.

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