Preah Vihear Governor to Close NGO Office for Inciting Workers

Preah Vihear provincial governor Oum Mara has sent a letter to inform Interior Minister Sar Kheng that he is ordering an NGO to close its local offices, on the grounds that the organization is inciting villagers to destroy sugarcane farmed by a Chinese company.

In the letter, which was obtained Thursday, Mr. Mara alleges that Loth Saing, a member of the Ponlok Khmer Organization, led villagers to destroy sugarcane on a plantation owned by Roy Feng (Cambodia) International Co. Ltd.

“At that time, even though the police went to stop them, they still continued to destroy sugarcane until 5:30 p.m. on April 1,” the governor wrote. “They destroyed about 36 tons of sugarcane on about 3 hectares.”

Mr. Mara explains that he will create a working group to meet with villagers and ask them to stop destroying sugarcane. He also details plans to close the Ponlok Khmer office and allow the Roy Feng company to file a lawsuit against the ringleaders of Tuesday’s sabotage efforts.

Ponlok Khmer is a small NGO based in Preah Vihear that works with ethnic minorities to preserve their land rights, according to its website.

“The organization actually always incites the people to commit illegal activities and oppose the government’s statutes,” he wrote.

Neither Mr. Mara nor Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak could be reached for comment Thursday.

Preah Vihear deputy governor Khoy Bunthan said that the sugarcane destruction was caught on film.

“We have video clips as evidence and can clarify that they really did this,” Ms. Bunthan said, declining to comment further.

Ang Cheatlom, executive director of the Ponlok Khmer Organization, said that he hoped Mr. Mara’s decision to close his organization’s offices in Preah Vihear would not stand.

He denied that his organization was involved in inciting villagers to break the law.

“Loth Saing is a staff member of this organization and did not commit a crime,” he said. “He just went to monitor the people and take photos…. This is just an accusation from provincial authorities.”

Ethnic Kuoy villagers in Preah Vihear province have accused Roy Feng and another Chinese firm, Lan Feng, of seizing and illegally clearing 5,000 hectares of their communal farmland.

In January, But Buntenh, a prominent activist monk, was detained and released by military police after joining the villagers in a protest.

On Wednesday, about 200 Kuoy villagers protested in front of the provincial police office following a questioning of three fellow villagers.

Keo Chamroeun, deputy provincial police chief, said Thursday that the questioning of the representatives followed a complaint being submitted against them by a Lan Feng company representative.

Soeng Sam, a representative of the Kuoy villagers, said about 300 people will continue their protest outside provincial hall today.

“We will sleep here until the provincial authorities give us a good resolution,” Mr. Sam said.

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