Authorities in Kampot province’s Chumkiri district allegedly carried out a campaign of intimidation against local residents involved in a land dispute with a local RCAF brigade to prevent the villagers from taking part in a public forum on human rights, villagers and rights workers said yesterday.
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights plans to hold a public forum entitled “Human Rights and Development” in Chres commune’s Trapaing Chhoeutil village on Friday and has already secured permission from the provincial governor, said CCHR project coordinator Chhim Savuth.
But locals claim that, over the weekend, commune chief Ou Yoeurn and other officials went door-to-door visiting residents and warning them not to attend the gathering, Mr Savuth said.
Villagers were told that attending the forum, where lawmakers from all of Cambodia’s major political parties are expected to speak, would lead to further problems in their land dispute with RCAF Intervention Brigade 11, Mr Savuth added.
“Local people wanted to use this forum to meet and voice their concerns over the land dispute to lawmakers, hoping to get intervention in favor of the poor farmers,” he said.
The group planned to hold the forum in a compound belonging to local resident Ky Han. Mr Han claimed yesterday that commune chief Mr Yoeurn and four other officials came to his home on Saturday and ordered him not to host the meeting.
He said he was warned that holding the forum “will make others hate my family, as the forum is linked to a political motive.”
Mr Yoeurn denied the allegations yesterday.
“I never intimidated my people,” he said.
Mr Yoeurn said he only became involved with the forum when he tried to discover the precise location to be used for the meeting. He said he asked the organization to specify which house would be used because “it is easier for my authorities to keep security.”
In a letter to CCHR obtained yesterday and dated Dec 17, deputy district governor Kang Saothun gives permission “in principle” for the forum to go ahead. Mr Saothun could not be reached yesterday.