Two Protected Area Residents, Three Who Gave Them Rice Charged

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Rice for sale in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Keng Kang market on March 8, 2020 (Matt Surrusco/VOD)

Two residents of a wildlife sanctuary and three men who tried to give them rice as charity have been charged for forestry crimes in Banteay Meanchey province.

The five were arrested on Sunday in Malai district’s Toul Pongro commune when the trio visited to distribute donations. A man who also went along said earlier this week that they had received a request for help. A sixth person — another resident — was also arrested but quickly released.

Provincial court spokesman Samrith Sokhon said the five were charged under the Protected Areas Law.

“We have charged Yoeung Chan and Heng Roeun with Articles 62 and 56 for clearing the forest, while the other three — Vorn Vion, Y Sok Sreng and Kim Sok San — we have charged for collusion for supporting [them]. They brought funds and food for them,” Sokhon said.

The articles refer to fourth-grade natural resource offenses and a potential punishment of five to 10 years in jail and a fine of 15 to 150 million riel, or about $3,750 to $37,500.

Sokhon said a judge had placed them all in pretrial detention.

The area is locally called the Pram Phum community and is within the Ronean Daun Sam Malai wildlife sanctuary. Late last year, Nokor Democracy Party president Chan Yet was removed from the Supreme Consultative Council, a governmental minor-party watchdog committee, after looking into the case of 230 families there facing evictions. A community representative said at the time that a private company was looking to develop the land.

The district police chief and commune chief said earlier this week that the prime minister’s cabinet was looking into the dispute. The officials said the residents were encroaching on state protected land.

Vorn Pov, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, said two of the arrested charity-givers were former association members, and Vion was a current member, but the incident was not related to union activities.

“We do not know where he got the rice from to distribute to the people, and he has completely done his separate thing, and it is not in the framework of the association, and it has nothing to do with the association’s mission,” Pov said, suggesting that they might have fallen into some kind of trap.

“We informed them but they didn’t follow us … so we do not bear responsibility for this.”

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