chantrea district, Svay Rieng province – Immigration police stopped and briefly detained two Cambodia Daily reporters yesterday, preventing them from reaching the Cambodian-Vietnamese border during a visit by opposition party lawmakers.
Prohibited from leaving Samraong commune in Svay Rieng province’s Chantrea district for roughly one hour and threatened with arrest, the Cambodian and US journalists were eventually ordered by the police officers to return to Phnom Penh, claiming the foreign reporter was not carrying his passport and, therefore, was not allowed in the area.
Police also slowed the travels of the Sam Rainsy Party delegations by blocking the roadway with a truck and trying to stop the lawmakers from reaching the border site, where party president Sam Rainsy visited on Oct 25 and criticized authorities for demarcation efforts along the borderline.
“We should have the right to travel free without any disturbance,” SRP lawmaker and spokesman Yim Sovann said later by telephone.
Sam Rainsy is currently facing criminal charges for incitement and damaging property after he and local villagers went to the site of demarcation post, then six wooden sticks, and pulled them out. There, Mr Rainsy decried the demarcation process, saying it lacked transparency. Vietnamese officials later accused him of uprooting six demarcation posts along the border area, something Mr Rainsy denies.
Mr Sovann said the delegation, which visited the border to investigate local villagers’ claims of encroachment on their land due to the demarcation process with Vietnam, said they were eventually able to visit the area of dispute, but were initially held back by roughly 20 officers from the Svay Rieng intervention police force. He said that upset local villagers ultimately pushed through the police barricade and led the lawmakers to the now concrete foundation of the new border marker.
“We are very concerned,” Mr Sovann said of the villagers’ complaints that they have lost land due to the demarcation.
“People are losing land elsewhere,” he added.
Provincial Immigration Police Chief Thoung Vannak stopped the Cambodia Daily reporters at about 1:30 pm as they were heading to Ang Runpenh pagoda in Koh Kban Kandal village. Traveling in a taxi, the reporters had stopped to ask for directions when Mr Vannak pulled his car in front of the taxi.
Mr Vannak said he was halting the reporters because it was his job to check on the comings and goings of foreigners.
“I am just doing my job,” Mr Vannak told the reporters.
The American reporter was asked to produce his passport, and when Mr Vannak was told that the reporter was not traveling with his passport, the police chief asked both reporters to travel the provincial police headquarter for questioning. The reporters asked if they were being placed under arrest, and were told by Mr Vannak that they were simply being “invited” for questioning.
Two more officers arrived on motorcycles and the police re-parked their car to block the taxi’s path. The uniform officers, who would not identify themselves and were not wearing identification names tags, began photographing the taxi and both reporters with their mobile phones.
Information on the reporters’ Cambodian press passes was copied down in notebooks.
Mr Vannak said if the men did not go his “boss” would send more officers and they would arrest the journalists and the driver for not agreeing to go to police headquarters.
“If you still try to get ahead then police will arrest all three,” the police chief said.
Svay Rieng Provincial Police Chief Prach Rim said he did not order Mr Vannak to detain or arrest the journalists, but added that it was correct for police to check the documents of foreigners.
Contacted by the reporters during their detention, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan asked to speak with Mr Vannak.
Mr Siphan told the reporters that they did not have to go to headquarters if they did not want to go.
After speaking on the phone with Mr Siphan, Mr Vannak instructed both journalists to return to Phnom Penh and for the foreign journalist to travel with a copy of his passport in the future, and to renew his Cambodian press card.
Mr Vannak then smiled and shook the hands of both reporters before getting into his car, which followed the journalists at a distance until they had left the Samraong commune area.