Local human rights groups have accused a land concession company in Mondolkiri of violating their right to travel on state roads after a foreign employee of the concession company accosted a group of rights workers on a sightseeing trip in the province.
The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, an umbrella organization of rights groups, accused the firm, Socfin KCD, of restricting access to a public road and the well-known Phnom Nam Lyr waterfall on Thursday in Pech Chreada district’s Busra commune, which is located near the firm’s rubber plantation.
The rights workers also demands the prosecution of the French-speaking foreign employee who allegedly harassed them.
“Since the firm has built its base in this area, the firm has installed road barricades to block villagers from traveling, passing in and out [of the area]. This road was used as a public state road that links to other resorts, waterfalls and historical places and also reaches to the Vietnam border,” according to the CHRAC letter.
Thursday’s incident began when more than a dozen rights workers, who had just finished a workshop in the province, traveled in three cars toward the Nam Lyr waterfall, which required using the public road that passes through Socfin KCD’s concession, according to CHRAC, which included among its members Adhoc and the Community Legal Education Center.
Private guards at the concession’s entrance allowed the rights workers to proceed, but when the visitors left their car to walk part of the distance to the waterfall they were confronted by a French-speaking westerner,
who accused them of entering the area without his permission.
“Especially he prevented us, and villagers from taking photographs of the forest and nature,” said Em Sopheak, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for CLEC.
“What he has done is a serious human rights violation, especially, the freedom of travel,” Mr Sopheak said “He was really rude and acted impolitely to us.”
Mondolkiri Deputy Provincial Governor Yim Lux could not be reached for comment.
Khaou Phallaboth, CEO of Khaou Chuly which owns 30 percent to Socfin KCD, declined to comment on whether the road was a public highway or private property.
What matters, Mr Phallaboth said, is that the company has a responsibility for what goes on inside the agricultural concession.
“It’s not a forbidden area, it’s not, but who goes there, normally you have to ask permission,” he said.
According to Mr Phallaboth, such permission was required to prevent illegal loggers, drug traffickers or other criminals from entering the area, though he added that he was not aware of the treatment of the human rights workers by the Sokfin representative.
However, access to the area and the tourist sites located there, is still the prerogative of Socfin, he added. (Additional reporting by Tim Sturrock)