by May Titthara and Daniel Pye / Phnom Penh Post
Just days after Spanish environmentalist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson was ejected from the country after officials refused to renew his visa, a prominent Areng Valley activist has been summoned to appear in court for unspecified “forest crimes”.
Ven Vorn, a community representative in the remote valley in Koh Kong province, was issued a summons by the Koh Kong Provincial Court on Saturday, according to activists from the environmental group Mother Nature, which was co-founded by Gonzalez-Davidson.
“The charges are most likely related to the visitor center [that] the communities and [Mother Nature] activists are building at the Areng Valley for students, guests, etc and needless to say is part of the campaign against [the] anti-dam movement,” Gonzalez-Davidson said in an email from an undisclosed location yesterday.
Gonzalez-Davidson was arrested and deported on February 23 for overstaying his visa. Authorities claimed he had been denied a new visa because he had blocked a road to the proposed dam site last year.
“They started with me and now they are trying to get the local leaders coerced,” he added.
Tou Savuth, the governor of Thmor Bang district, could not be reached for comment.
Vorn also could not be reached yesterday as he was in the valley, where there is no mobile phone coverage.
He has been called for questioning on March 10 after Forestry Administration officers filed a complaint against him, according to the summons.
“He must appear at the court on this date and bring any supporting documents if he has them,” the letter reads.
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday said that a decision on whether to proceed with the 108-megawatt hydropower dam would be postponed until 2018. Sinohydro Resources, a state-owned Chinese firm, has sought to complete feasibility studies of the dam since March last year, hiring two local consultancies to carry out the work.
Resistance from the activists and some in the local community has irked the authorities and prompted “threats”, said Heng Samnang, a Mother Nature activist.
“What they are doing now is threatening the communities who are always actively … opposing the hydropower dam,” he said. “Under the forestry law, communities living around the protected forest can collect forest by-products without requiring a licence.”