UPDATED at 3:40 P.M. EST on 2016-08-19
Twin brothers who claim to be the last people to have seen independent political commentator Kem Ley alive the day before he was murdered said Friday that they are planning to return to Cambodia to resume their work as environmental activists.
Chum Huor and Chum Huot, environmental activists who were close to Kem Ley, fled Cambodia on July 14, four days after the pundit’s murder and after they had posted criticisms about the murder investigation on social media and provided an account of the slaying to the American embassy in the capital Phnom Penh.
They told RFA’s Khmer Service via phone from Bangkok that they want to return to Cambodia to continue helping those who have been “victimized” by the 260-megawatt Don Sahong hydropower dam project being built on the Mekong River in southern Laos about one kilometer (0.62 miles) upstream from Cambodia.
The brothers have participated in campaigns and protests to stop the building of the dam, which began last December.
Cambodian villagers in Stung Treng, Kratie, and other provinces along Lake Tonle Sap and the river system on which the dam is being built fear that the hydropower project will detrimentally affect their lives and livelihoods because it could block transboundary fish migration routes, harm local and regional fisheries, and lead to the extinction of Mekong dolphins.
“If we go abroad, we will be there for so many years,” Chum Huor said. “We see people living along the Mekong River, and if we don’t help them now, we will feel sad.”
“If we go to a third country we can have an education, accommodations—everything,” he said. “We would have physical dignity, but we would regret not being able to help them and be remorseful about it.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had granted the brothers refugee status so they could live in a third country.
The brothers said they will return to Cambodia soon, but did not specify a date.
Reported by Sarada Taing for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.