by Ben Sokhean / The Cambodia Daily
Authorities prevented journalists and rights workers from inspecting a site of alleged illegal logging in Mondolkiri province on Saturday evening, with a commune official saying that the group had failed to seek prior permission to enter the area.
Six armed commune police and the local commune chief physically blocked the group of 16 rights workers and journalists from proceeding along a public road to the site of a disputed plot of land in Keo Seima’s Sre Preah commune, according to Vong Kosal, legal officer for The NGO Forum on Cambodia, which organized the trip.
“Our purpose was to check the forest in the area, make a newsreel of the illegal logging of the forest and timber products of the people who live in those areas,” said Mr. Kosal, who said the group had not tried to defy the orders of the armed police.
“The commune chief with six of his police carrying long and short guns stood in the middle of the road and prevented us from entering that area,” he said.
The trip was organized to provide increased media coverage to a land dispute between villagers and two companies—Sovan Reachsey and Bin Fuerk I—in Mondolkiri’s Keo Seima district, according to an NGO Forum press release. The villagers accuse the firms of illegally logging on disputed economic land concessions, it says.
Pyeup Pe, the Sre Preah commune chief, confirmed yesterday that he had deployed five armed police to prevent the group from entering the forested area.
“We did not see anything from the provincial forestry administration related to their mission,” he said. “If they had permission, we would let them into those areas.”
Mr. Pe added that there were two other reasons why he deployed his police.
“At first when they arrived we were afraid they would see good forest and call another company to come and log our community forest,” he explained. “Secondly, we were afraid those reporters would take photographs and sell them to foreigners.”
Isa Rohany, a reporter for the Thmey Thmey news website, described Saturday’s events as an example of the “abuse of the free press” in Cambodia.
“The authorities blocked us by saying we were acting illegally, but we tried to explain to [Mr. Pe] about the Constitution,” Ms. Rohany said. “We are journalists, we do not need permission to come and look at the forest.”