Briefs: Violent Threat Against Metta Forest Monk

3 min read
Remnants of the Metta Forest on August 9, 2022. (Hean Rangsey/VOD)
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Kampong Speu residents accused soldiers of threatening to use violence against a monk trying to protect the community’s Metta forest, confiscating his phone to stop him from taking photos of their activities.

Teok Mao, a member of the Metta forest community in Oral district, said soldiers threatened violence against the monk, who lives in the forest and was taking photos of soldiers plowing land that was previously part of the forest.

The soldiers grabbed the monk’s phone during the incident on Friday to stop him taking photos, Mao said.

It was not the first violent incident in the forest dispute, he pointed out, referring to previous gunshots amid confrontations between community members and soldiers.

“We have to keep all of this evidence and not allow them to go further,” he said. “They destroyed the forest and destroyed all the evidence.”

In 2021, a government sub-decree granted 262 hectares of forest land to the military’s armored vehicle military unit. The land is part of the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary and has traditionally been used by about 253 families, according to rights group Licadho.

Another community member, Khorn Sarith, said the soldiers had been active in the cleared parts of the forest, dredging for sand and digging boundaries.

“They plow and place marker poles. When community members stop them, they leave, but when we return home, they come to do it again. They do this almost every day.”

Pen Sarin, who villagers said was the soldier leading the clearing of Metta forest, denied any threats and said soldiers were only clearing the land the government had given them.

— by Khut Sokun

NagaWorld Unionist Ignores Police Meeting Over Fire Video

A NagaWorld union member said she was informally asked to join a meeting by a police official after she published a live video of a fire on December 31 that the official claimed was factually incorrect.

Mam Sovathin is a member of the NagaWorld casino union and was laid off in 2021. She is prominent for her Facebook livestream videos of the protests, which were sparked by the mass layoffs at the casino. She continues to protest outside the casino complex regularly.

She broadcast a video of a fire at a furniture store in Tonle Bassac commune on December 31, and said there were many fire trucks at the location but that only one was being used to extinguish the fire.

A day later, she posted another video alleging a police official had messaged her on Facebook about the livestream and asked her to come to meet the next day, January 2. The police official, who was allegedly from the Interior Ministry’s fire prevention police department, said they had used all the fire trucks sent to fight the fire and that her video was erroneous.

“I usually think they should have a proper paper to call me. Also I did nothing wrong in the livestream which is just my freedom of speech,” she said, adding that she did not go to meet the police.

Neth Vantha, director of the Interior Ministry’s fire department, said he hadn’t received information about the case and referred questions to Prohm Yorn, director of the ministry’s fire prevention and rescue police, who said he was busy.

While the case seems unrelated to Sovathin’s labor advocacy, rights groups have long pointed to the surveillance — both in person and online — of prominent activist and civil society members, even pointing to the hacking of their Facebook accounts and pages.

— Keat Soriththeavy

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