After police in Preah Vihear province blocked the U.N.’s human rights envoy from meeting with indigenous villagers earlier this week, Rhona Smith sat down with Interior Minister Sar Kheng in Phnom Penh on Wednesday and called for better communication between national and local government officials.
On Monday, the special rapporteur—whose second fact-finding mission to Cambodia ends today—had just begun speaking with ethnic Kuoy villagers in Preah Vihear’s Tbeng Meanchey district about their land dispute with a Chinese sugarcane plantation when plainclothes police arrived and broke up the event.
Phath Sophanith, a cabinet official at the Interior Ministry, said Ms. Smith raised the incident with Mr. Kheng on Wednesday.
“Missus [Smith] said that when she went down to the area, the local authorities stopped her from meeting with people during a visit there. Missus requested that Samdech Kralahorm [Mr. Kheng] educate the local authorities to understand people’s rights,” he said.
“Samdech Kralahorm replied that this problem happens when there is a disconnect, and that this is not the will of the government. Some authorities, maybe they are too careful because they feel like they need to respond to the wishes of the government and the people,” he said.
Mr. Sophanith said Ms. Smith also pressed Mr. Kheng on plans for Phnom Penh’s Prey Speu center, a controversial detention facility that critics say is little more than a dumping ground for vagrants, sex workers and drug addicts. Ms. Smith said many of the detainees did not want to be at the center, he said.
In response, Mr. Kheng admitted that there had been problems with the center’s management but that it was still an effective rehabilitation tool, Mr. Sophanith added.
“Samdech Kralahorm said the purpose of creating the center was to control public order, but maybe, due to poor management, people have protested, saying they do not want to stay at the center,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Ms. Smith met with acting opposition leader Kem Sokha, according to a post on his Facebook page.