An ethnic Kuoy man in Siem Reap province said on Friday he has faced intimidation by local police since telling a public forum that his village faced starvation.
Chrat Mao, a 37-year-old farmer from Srenoy commune’s Lolung Ronthmey village, accused Ly Savun, chief of Srenoy commune police, of threatening him with a defamation case unless he stopped telling people that his village faced a severe food shortage.
“The cop threatened me to stop voicing the situation of starvation in my village,” he said. “I refused to fingerprint, then that cop claimed I would be sued with defamation and disinformation.”
Speaking on Thursday in front of an audience of about 700, including senators, lawmakers and local authorities, at a forum titled “Development and Human Rights,” Mr Mao said that half of the more than 300 families in his village had been starving for about a month, according to Chhim Savuth, project coordinator at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, which organized the forum.
“He claimed that villagers were just digging underground roots to eat,” Mr Savuth said.
He added that Mr Mao also complained that a poorly maintained road made it difficult for hungry villagers to leave and look for work elsewhere.
Contacted by phone Friday, commune police chief Mr Savun dismissed the allegations of intimidation, saying that he only told Mr Mao not to exaggerate.
“Because to exaggerate the fact, it leads to disinformation,” he said. “I was just telling him to stop disseminating such disinformation, not intimidating that I would sue him.”
Tat Bunchhoeun, director of the provincial agriculture department, who attended the forum, said that he had visited the village to investigate and that only about 12 families were facing food shortages.
“I can say that some families have shortages of rice, but they are not at the situation of starving,” he said. “Villagers in that area commonly like eating roots because that zone has a surplus of those kind of roots for eating.”
Mr Bunchhoeun said he had spoken to the district governor, who had said that he had already received a list of those families who were short of food from the commune chief.