Khmer News in En

Hun Sen Threatens Laos Over Troops in Cambodia

Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen called on Laos on Friday to withdraw troops he said have been present in Cambodia since April, threatening military action against the neighboring country if its soldiers are not pulled out by Aug. 17, Cambodian media and other sources said.

Speaking at a ceremony in the capital Phnom Penh, Hun Sen said that he has ordered a temporary halt to road construction in northeastern Cambodia’s Stung Treng province challenged by Laos to give its  soldiers a chance to leave.

Residents of Stung Treng should not be alarmed, though, if they see Cambodian troops mass in the area to take back the disputed land, Hun Sen said.

“I can’t let anyone take an inch of Cambodian land, and Cambodia won’t take anyone else’s land either,” the prime minister said.

“I urge Laos to withdraw its troops from Cambodia unconditionally,” he said.

The Lao government should complain to the International Court of Justice in The Hague if it truly believes the land to which it has sent troops belongs to Laos, Hun Sen said, adding, “We should go to court together in order to avoid bloodshed.”

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Cambodian political analyst Meas Nee said that war between Cambodia and Laos would harm both countries, and that Hun Sen’s warning may now lead to talks.

“Most world leaders would issue warnings like this,” he said. “And negotiations can sometimes result from this.”

Comments on Cambodian social media meanwhile called Hun Sen’s warning of military action a ploy to gain popularity ahead of national elections next year, positioning him as a “leader who dares to protect his country from invasion.”

A Lao official in the country’s Champasak province near Cambodia said he had received no notice of a Cambodian threat of war against his country.

“We have not been informed, we have not received any notice, and the Cambodian consulate here has not said anything,” the official told RFA’s Lao Service on condition of anonymity.

“Everything seems normal [here].”

Reported by Sonorng Kher for RFA’s Khmer Service and by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Sarada Taing and Bounchanh Mouangkham. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Montagnards Deported From Cambodia Arrive in Vietnam

Thirteen Vietnamese Montagnards seeking asylum in Cambodia were forced back to Vietnam on Wednesday, ending their hopes of being settled outside the country from which they had fled, sources said.

Speaking on Thursday to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, Grace Bui—a volunteer with the U.S.-based rights group Montagnards Assistance Project—confirmed the group’s arrival in Vietnam.

“They have arrived in Vietnam, but I don’t know what’s going to happen to them,” Bui told RFA.

“Usually, when [deported Montagnards] arrive in Vietnam, the authorities will come to pick them up. Then they bring them to a police station to work on some documents, take fingerprints, and then offer them a meal before letting them go home,” she said.

Bui told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Tuesday that the 13 who would be sent back were among 16 whose requests for asylum were denied by the Cambodian government in June.

“The Cambodian government wanted to deport all 16 people, but I heard they had to postpone this because of public disapproval,” Bui told RFA.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had objected to the removal of the group, and one asylum seeker quoted on Thursday by the English-language Cambodia Daily told Bui that they had been sent back from Cambodia against their will.

“He said no one wanted to go back to Vietnam.”

Hundreds of Montagnards have fled their country in recent years and crossed the border into Cambodia, citing oppression by the Vietnamese government, religious persecution of the mainly Christian minority, and expropriation of their land.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Cambodian Analyst Kim Sok Handed Prison Term and Fines in Defamation Case

A Cambodian court on Thursday sentenced social and political commentator Kim Sok to 18 months in prison on charges of defamation and incitement to cause social disorder while ordering him to pay hefty fines both to Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen and to the country’s government, sources said.

Kim Sok refused to stand as the verdict was read and denounced the court, prompting the trial judge to order guards to force him to his feet.

In addition to serving his prison term, Kim Sok must pay 800 million riels (U.S. $200,000) to Hun Sen and 8 million riels (U.S. $2,000) to the state, sums that his brother said his family will be unable to pay.

“After hearing the news of Kim Sok’s conviction, my mother was shocked,” Kim Sok’s brother Kim Seng told RFA’s Khmer Service on Thursday.

“She said she has nothing she can use to help pay her son’s fines, since she only possesses a small parcel of rice paddy land.  And Kim Sok himself has no assets that he can use to pay the compensation. He has only two iPhones and an iPad,” he said.

Cambodian society at present is not ruled by law, but by the wishes of Hun Sen, Kim Seng said, adding, “My brother’s reaction during his trial shows that he is not afraid of the pressures being used against him.  I really admire his bravery!”

Prosecuting attorney Ky Tech meanwhile applauded the court’s verdict, calling it fair in view of Kim Sok’s open defiance of the court and his sentence.

Kim Sok’s lawyer Choung Choungy could not immediately be reached for comment.

Accusations of involvement

Kim Sok was jailed on Feb. 17 after Hun Sen accused him of implying that his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had orchestrated the July 2016 murder of popular political pundit Kem Ley, though Kim Sok said that he had only been repeating what many Cambodians believe.

Kem Ley was shot dead in broad daylight on July 10, 2016, when he stopped in a convenience store beside a gas station in Phnom Penh.

Though authorities charged a former soldier with the murder, many in Cambodia don’t believe the government’s story that Kem Ley was killed by the man over a debt.

Just days before he was gunned down, Kem Ley had discussed on an RFA Khmer Service call-in show a report by London-based Global Witness detailing the extent of the wealth of the family of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 31 years.

Rights groups accuse Cambodia’s judiciary of lacking independence and say the government seeks to limit freedom of expression by using the courts to level defamation charges at reporters and critics of the ruling party.

Reported by Samnang Rann and Vuthy Huot for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Cambodia Set to Send 13 Montagnards Back to Vietnam After Asylum Bids Rejected

Phnom Penh is set to repatriate 13 Montagnard asylum-seekers to their native Vietnam after they failed to meet requirements for gaining refugee status in Cambodia, a nongovernmental organization that monitors hill tribes said Tuesday.

Grace Bui, a volunteer with the U.S.-based rights group Montagnards Assistance Project, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the 13 who would be sent back on Wednesday were among 16 whose requests for asylum are were denied by the Cambodian government in June.

“The Cambodian government wanted to deport all 16 people, but I heard they had to postpone this because of public disapproval,” Bui told RFA.

“But this morning, August 8, a refugee in Cambodia wrote to me and said that there would be 13 people deported to Vietnam tomorrow and that the UN is working on the procedure because the UN is responsible for returning anyone who was deported back to their home. I don’t know when the other three will be deported,” Bui added.

The Cambodia Daily reported on Monday that opposition from the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which has representatives based in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, prompted Cambodia to delay the repatriation of the 16.

“We had planned to send the 16 people to Vietnam, but the plan was suspended because the U.N. protested against our decision to not offer refugee status for those people,” the English-language daily quoted Houl Sarith, head of the Cambodian Interior Ministry’s application office for asylum-seekers.

Bui told RFA that if  all 16 Montagnards are returned to Vietnam, there will only be about 20 of the refugees from the Central Highlands of Vietnam left in Cambodia.  Other sources have said that 49 Montagnards remain in Cambodia awaiting their fate.

The Montagnards living in Phnom Penh are among hundreds who have fled their country and crossed the border into Cambodia seeking help from UNHCR, citing oppression by the Vietnamese government, religious persecution of the mainly Christian minority and expropriation of their land.

Since 2001, at least three thousand Vietnamese Montagnards have crossed the border into Cambodia via Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri provinces to seek refugee status, including a large wave that came in 2014.Roughly 30 tribes of indigenous peoples, known collectively as Montagnards or the Degar, reside in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Early in the last decade, thousands in the region staged violent protests against the confiscation of their ancestral lands and religious controls, prompting a brutal crackdown by Vietnamese security forces that saw hundreds of Montagnards charged with national security crimes.

More than 50 Montagnard asylum seekers, many of whom are Christian, fled Cambodia to Thailand in early 2017 amid fears of forced repatriation to Vietnam, according to the Montagnards Assistance Project. It said some 250 Montagnards had gathered in Thailand as of April.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Lillian Andemicael.

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Cambodia Court Rejects Jailed Land Activist’s Appeal

A court in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh on Tuesday rejected an appeal by land activist and rights campaigner Tep Vanny of her conviction on charges of “aggravated intentional violence,” drawing condemnation from rights groups who demanded she be freed.

On Feb. 23, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Tep Vanny to two years and six months in prison on charges of “aggravated intentional violence” in connection with a 2013 protest she held in front of Hun Sen’s home that ended in violence.

While the protest occurred in 2013, the court prosecutor reactivated the case and charged Tep Vanny in August last year after she was arrested for participating in another demonstration.

On Tuesday, Cambodia’s Appeals Court upheld the Municipal Court’s ruling, which was issued following a trial in which the prosecution failed to produce any witnesses—preventing cross-examination by the defense—and which is widely seen as politically motivated.

Defense witnesses maintain that security forces launched an attack against Tep Vanny’s group in 2013, leaving some protesters wounded, knocked unconscious, or with lost teeth, while others suffered broken arms. Tep Vanny was also injured in the confrontation.

Around 50 people affected by forced eviction had gathered outside the courthouse ahead of the decision, calling for Tep Vanny’s release.

The Phnom Penh Post quoted Presiding Judge Pol Sam Oeun as saying that he found no fault in the lower court’s decision.

“The council sees that there was violence that happened and complied with the charge of ‘violence with aggravating circumstances,’ and that decision of the municipal court was correct,” he said, referring to the three-judge panel.

As she was led from the court, Tep Vanny condemned the decision as “unjust,” according to the Post.

“Put me in jail if you think this would bring benefit to the nation … Today, I am in jail, but tomorrow it will be your turn,” she yelled, as she was shoved into a prison van.

After the Appeals Court ruled, Kong Chantha from Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake community told RFA’s Khmer Service that Cambodia’s judiciary caters to the whims of the wealthy and politically powerful.

“The courts lack professionalism and court officials are operated by remote control,” she said.

“No witness was heard [in her February trial].”

The term “remote-control court” is regularly used by the public to refer to what they say are biased courts operated by those in power.

Rights groups react

The ruling was met with frustration from Soeng Senkarona, a senior investigator with local rights group ADHOC, who said he was “saddened” that the Appeals Court sided with the original verdict without providing any evidence to support its decision.

“I consider the Appeal Court’s decision unfair,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.

In a statement, New York-based Human Rights Watch urged Cambodia to release Tep Vanny, who has been in the capital’s Prey Sar Prison since Aug. 15, 2016, and slammed the government, which it said “routinely misuses the courts … to target members of the political opposition and civil society activists.

“The case against Tep Vanny is a blatant misuse of prosecutorial power to punish her for her peaceful activism,” said Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director.

“This prosecution is intended to silence Tep Vanny and intimidate other Cambodian activists.”

Robertson also urged Cambodia’s international donors to pressure the government to end “the politically motivated and unsubstantiated charges” against Tep Vanny and other detained activists.

Tep Vanny came to prominence as an activist fighting the Boeung Kak Lake land grab, when some 3,500 families were evicted from a neighborhood surrounding the urban lake in Phnom Penh. The lake was later filled with sand to make way for a development project with close ties to Hun Sen and the CPP.

She has also been active in urging an independent investigation into the July 10, 2016 shooting death of Kem Ley, a popular social commentator and frequent government critic.

Concerns over rights

Tep Vanny’s appeal verdict came as Rhona Smith, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia met with Keo Remy, the head of the government-run Cambodian Human Rights Committee, in the capital as she began an 11-day visit to Cambodia.

Following their discussion, Keo Remy told reporters that he acknowledged Smith’s concerns over the human rights situation in Cambodia, referring specifically to comments made recently by Social Affairs Minister Vong Sauth, who threatened to beat anyone that protests the results of general elections set for July next year with bamboo poles.

“The most important thing to remember is that his remarks are not threats—they are just part of a message to educate people on the legal grounds [of the government’s potential reaction to protests],” he said.

“Such remarks may raise some concerns regarding human rights. However, the minister is a gentle person and people shouldn’t be intimidated by his words.”

Speaking at a promotion ceremony in the capital last week, Vong Sauth slammed what he called a bid by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to “poison” society and undermine Prime Minister Hun Sen, according to local media reports.

“The opposition says that the CPP, and especially Hun Sen, just does whatever he wants to do,” the Phnom Penh Post quoted Vong Sauth as saying, before proceeding to suggest that doing so is the prime minister’s right.

“He does whatever he wants to do—in compliance with the law, and the law gives him that power. And everyone who breaks the law will be arrested and put in prison.”

While Keo Remy appeared to suggest it was Smith who brought up Vong Sauth’s comments at their meeting on Tuesday, Smith told reporters she had not raised the issue.

Smith’s visit, which was organized by the U.N.’s local human rights office, will help her take the pulse of the human rights situation in Cambodia, with a special emphasis on the rights of children—part of her focus on discrimination and marginalized groups.

She is also set to meet with Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana on Thursday, a ministry spokesman told the Cambodia Daily.

Reported by Vuthy Tha and Maly Leng for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodian Activist Detained For ‘Inciting a Protest,’ Flying a Drone

Cambodian authorities detained and questioned a youth activist from the domestic environmental nongovernmental organization Mother Nature Cambodia on Monday for allegedly “inciting a community to protest” and for illegally flying a drone, a domestic human rights group and provincial official said.

Hun Vannak had gone to Koh Kor village, Rorka Khpuos commune, in southeastern Cambodia’s Kandal province by invitation to monitor a meeting with Sa’ang district authorities, commune and village officials, and representatives of a sand-dredging company, according to a statement issued by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR).

“CCHR has received information that Mr. Vannak is being questioned in relation to allegedly illegally inciting the community to protest, and for allegedly illegally flying a drone,” the statement said. “The exact nature of the alleged offenses is yet to be confirmed by the authorities.”

Sa’ang District authorities picked him up in the village at 12:30 p.m. local time and questioned him for several hours before releasing him at 8 p.m., CCHR and villagers said.

About 20 police officers and uniformed representatives of the Leng Chin Group Company Ltd. intercepted him as he walked to buy lunch after meeting with roughly 200 villagers affected by sand dredging in the Tonle Bassac River, they said.

The villagers had gathered to protest against the Leng Chin Group, the company conducting the sand-dredging operations, to demand that it stop its activities and compensate them for lost and damaged property.

The officers forced Hun Vannak into a police vehicle and took him to the Ta Kmao police station for questioning, CCHR and villagers said.

Those who witnessed his apprehension told RFA’s Khmer Service that authorities had said there would be no arrests during the meeting.

Several villagers waited outside the police station for news about the activist’s release.

“Hun Vannak was brought in to the police station for questioning regarding the status of his organization and the purpose of his presence at the location where he was detained,” Khem Chaniri, deputy provincial governor of Kandal province, told RFA.

“Last week he even flew a drone illegally, so he has been detained for questioning only,” he said.

Hun Vannak flew the drone over areas affected by sand dredging on Aug. 5.

After he was released, Hun Vannak told RFA that authorities questioned him about his involvement in helping the 200 villagers organize their protest.

The police threatened him during the interrogation because they said his activities were illegal, he said.

Hun Vannak argued with them that his activities to help educate people about their rights and peaceful protest were not illegal, he said

He also told police that he educated the villagers about the roles and responsibilities of the authorities and the Leng Chin Group.

Before police released him, he said he had to agree to not fly drones in Koh Kor village, to stay out of the village, to not interfere in the administrative matters of local authorities, and to refrain from engaging in any protests that incite disorder and unrest.

Determined to fight

Villagers said members of Mother Nature, including Huy Vannak, came to Koh Kor to tell them about their rights and give them instructions for conducting peaceful protests to voice their concerns about that sand-dredging activities that destroyed their homes during a riverbank collapse.

Villagers told RFA that they are determined to continue fighting against the sand dredging.

They also said officials from the Ministry of Mines and Energy had met with Leng Chin Group representatives to ask the company to stop dredging sand too closely to the riverbank and the villagers’ homes.

The company agreed to dredge sand at least 50 meters (164 feet) from the riverbank per the villagers’ request with approval from the ministry.

Initially, the Leng Chin Group complied with the terms, but soon it moved its dredging vessels as close as 25 meters (82 feet) from the riverbank, prompting the villagers to protest, they said.

Sand dredging operations have been conducted in Koh Kor village for more than seven years.

Villagers have been meeting almost daily to discuss the dredging and to plan advocacy activities, although the meetings are routinely been disrupted by district-level authorities and police, CCHR said.

This is not the first time that authorities have detained or harassed members of Mother Nature.

On June 11, police repeated asked activist Thun Ratha to produce his identification card while he was staying with the villagers affected by the sand dredging in the same village.

Fearing for their safety, the activist and 20 villagers turned to the United Nations human rights office in Cambodia for help.

In another related sand dredging event in southwestern Cambodia’s Koh Kong province, three other Mother Nature activists were arrested and jailed.

Try Sovikea, 28, San Mala, 26, and Sim Somnang, 31, were detained for 10 months before receiving 18-month sentences in July 2016 for threatening to destroy a barge belonging to the sand-dredging company Direct Access in 2015.

They were released when a judge suspended the last eight months of their sentences, and they subsequently filed an appeal against a $25,000 fine they were ordered to pay.

After filing that appeal, however, they fled the country in late January 2017 to boycott the appeal process because they feared that the court would issue an unfair ruling.

San Mala returned to Cambodia two months later, saying that he felt it was safe for him to come back.

In February 2015, Cambodian authorities refused to renew the visa of Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, Mother Nature’s director, and expelled him from the country.

Reported by Sel San for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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