Protesters calling for the release of three environment activists detained in southeastern Cambodia’s Koh Kong province were warned by provincial authorities on Tuesday to end their public protest by Sept. 2 or face possible dispersal and arrest, sources said.
The order, which threatens use of unspecified “administrative measures” hinting at the use of force, is the third to be issued after two earlier warnings were ignored, sources said.
“Authorities have issued a deadline ordering all activists to move away from the [provincial] court by 5:00 p.m. Wednesday,” provincial governor Bun Leut told RFA’s Khmer Service on Tuesday.
“Otherwise, the authorities will take administrative measures against them to protect public order,” he said.
About 100 villagers and land activists marched on Tuesday in Koh Kong city to demand the release of the three activists, who were detained earlier this month for interfering with sand-dredging operations blamed for local pollution and riverbank collapse.
The protesters, who clashed briefly with police on Tuesday, have vowed to continue their campaign until the activists—San Mala, 24, Try Sovikea, 26, and Sim Somnang, 29—are freed, sources said.
Protests will continue
Speaking to RFA on Tuesday, In Kongchit, provincial coordinator for the Cambodian rights group Licadho, rejected the deadline to disperse and vowed that the marchers will continue their protest, now entering its third week, until the three are released with all charges against them dropped.
“I ask that the authorities reconsider their attitude,” In Kongchit said.
“I also request the court to consider procedures that could lead to the activists’ release, free of all charges, so that they can regain their freedom,” he said.
The three activists, members of the Cambodian environmental NGO Mother Nature, were taken into custody on Aug. 17 after they failed to appear at a police station to answer questions about their involvement in a protest against two Vietnamese firms engaged in dredging operations in a Koh Kong estuary.
Dredging in the area has caused pollution and riverbank collapse, as well as reduced fish and crab populations on which local fishermen depend for their livelihoods, the Cambodian environmental group alleges.
Clash with police
Gathering on Tuesday in spite of rain, protesters clashed briefly with police after their march took them near the provincial governor’s residence, Sorn Chandra, a Mother Nature activist, told RFA.
“This morning, Sept. 1, when activists and villagers were marching near the governor’s residence, security forces prevented them from walking along a road nearby,” Sorn Chandra said.
“They pushed each other, but there wasn’t any serious violence, and there were no arrests,” he said.
The Koh Kong provincial court on Sept. 1 rejected an appeal for the three activists to be freed on bail, Licadho lawyer Sam Sokunthea said in a Phnom Penh Post report on Monday.
“I just received the court’s letter today at about 5:30 p.m., and they refused to release [them],” she said.
The Cambodian government began issuing sand-dredging licenses in 2006, although many companies operate illegally without them.
Companies engaged in the activity use the sand for construction work and export it to other countries in the region.
Reported by Den Ayuthea for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.