A Ratanakkiri province commune chief Monday denied accusations that he had tried to scare villagers away from participating in a planned protest Thursday against illegal logging and deforestation.
Police in December used fire trucks and water hoses to break up a peaceful protest march in Banlung town against forest and land crimes. However, the Interior Ministry said earlier this month that this time Interior Minister Sar Kheng had agreed in principle to allow Thursday’s planned march against forestry crimes.
But in a sign of rising tension ahead of the march, more than 200 villagers were warned by a commune chief that they risked similar treatment from police if they were to join Thursday’s protest.
Chai Ty, an activist for local rights group Adhoc, said the villagers in O’Yadaw district’s Lumchor commune were warned Saturday by commune chief Sev Thvan that police would stop them before they could get to the rally or would use water hoses on them. “Such a comment is a kind…of intimidation to make people hesitant to participate in the rally,” he said.
Sev Thvan denied that he had threatened anyone but had merely warned the villagers about travelling to Banlung on Thursday.
“I am worried for my people’s security, which is why I told them it’s better not to join the rally, as we saw that the 2007 march was dispersed with water,” he said.
Provincial Governor Muong Poy said Monday that the March would be permitted but declined to comment further.
Adhoc provincial coordinator Pen Bonnar said provincial officials had said Monday that the protest would only be allowed to continue for two hours: “A majority of provincial officials are definitely involved with such crimes as deforestation, illegal logging and land grabbing; otherwise, they would support our rally.”