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Cambodian NGO workers, villagers face intimidation

UPDATE: NGO worker faces intimidation while documenting a land issue in Koh Kong Province (CCHR, 18 December 2012)

(CCHR/IFEX) - 2 November 2012 - During a mission to the provinces to collect information regarding land conflicts, the Land Reform Project Team of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights ("CCHR"), was faced with interference and disruption to its work in Thlao Village, Banteay Chhmar Commune, Thma Pouk District, Banteay Mean Chey Province on 29, 30 and 31 October 2012.

Through surveying the area and conducting interviews with the local people, CCHR's team, led by Project Coordinator, Mr. Vann Sophath, gathered information on the impact of a land conflict, in which the involved private company is the recipient of an illegal economic land concession. The team faced intimidation on the second day of its mission from local police, military, and a student volunteer employed by a government land-measuring program. A villager closely affiliated with local officials and the private company, reported CCHR's presence in the area to the authorities. This resulted in an attempt by the authorities to intimidate the project team, and the villagers being interviewed, by circling them on their motorbikes and keeping a close watch on their activities. CCHR staff were also interrogated by a soldier and the government-affiliated volunteer.

On the same day, a community representative was questioned by a military commander regarding a rumour that three Radio Free Asia reporters were interviewing villagers. The representative stated that he knew nothing of this but had just hosted CCHR's meeting with the village residents.

One villager implied that the community representative, by calling CCHR to interview residents, was risking imprisonment. Furthermore, the villager stated that the land conflict had already been solved due to the fact that the student group was currently demarcating the land - it was therefore unnecessary to provide interviews on the situation. Those that had given interviews were at risk of having their hard land titles confiscated or not receiving a land title in the first place, the villager said.

The intimidation had little impact on CCHR's work as most of the interviews had been conducted the previous day and some villagers who had yet to provide interviews were willing to follow through regardless. However, the disruption of the work of NGOs is a growing trend and amounts to the violation of freedoms of expression, information, assembly and association, all of which are upheld under the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Cambodia in 1992, and also protected under the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

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