About 80 protesters marched in Cambodia’s southwestern Koh Kong province on Monday to demand the release of three activists detained earlier this month for interfering with sand-dredging operations blamed for local pollution and riverbank collapse, sources said.
The protesters marched carrying banners along city streets to the provincial court, demanding that the court release the three and drop all charges against them, rights activist In Kongchit told RFA’s Khmer Service on Aug. 31.
Authorities made no attempt to block the demonstration, In Kongchit—provincial coordinator for the Cambodian rights group Licadho—said.
“We think that the court must reconsider this case,” In Kongchit said.
“If the court reconsiders the case, the activists’ protests will be halted, and everything will be resolved," he said.
The protesters have vowed to continue their campaign, now entering its third week, until the activists—San Mala, 24, Try Sovikea, 26, and Sim Somnang, 29—are freed, sources said.
Damage to boats
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 province 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.
The activists’ arrest occurred after one firm, Direct Access, filed a complaint against them, charging that the three had caused more than U.S. $100,000 in damage to equipment after boarding sand-dredging boats owned by the two companies.
Authorities in Koh Kong’s Batum Sakor district, in which the protest occurred, also accused the three of creating a public disturbance, local media reported.
A spokesman from the Ministry of Mines and Energy meanwhile said that Direct Access had been operating legally and in compliance with the conditions of its licenses, the reports 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 RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.