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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs                       20  August 2011

Villagers detained after protest

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More than 100 villagers from four provinces were detained and questioned by Phnom Penh officials yesterday morning after they tried to distribute flyers urging the government to protect Prey Lang forest.

Some protestors say they were threatened with arrest and accused of degrading the city’s environment during their bid to preserve the largest lowland forest in Southeast Asia.

The nearly 3,600 -square-kilometre area spreads across six districts in four provinces: Kampong Thom, Kratie, Preah Vihear and Stung Treng.

Communities living around it, primarily Kuy indigenous people, say it is sacred and have warned that it is under threat from illegal logging and economic land concessions.

At 7 a.m. yesterday, 120 or so villagers had gathered at Preah Ong shrine opposite the Royal Palace for what the Cambodia Centre for Human Rights had said in a press release the night before would be a “Long Prayer for Prey Lang”.

After about an hour of prayer, the protestors – many of whom donned hats made of leaves in imitation of the threatened civilization in the blockbuster film Avatar – broke into groups of 10 and travelled to 10 intersections in the city to hand out the flyers.

At some intersections, commune police prevented them from handing out a single one and more than 100 were detained, according to a joint statement from three rights groups: CCHR, Licadho, and Community Legal Education Centre. The three groups said they “condemn [the] mass detention of peaceful activists in Phnom Penh, in which police detained … villagers for distributing flyers”.

Detained villager Young Chin, 26, from Kampong Thom province, said police at Chaktomuk commune office accused those detained of “not asking permission from City Hall and damaging the city’s environment.”

He and the others detained at that office were told to sign forms saying they would not protest again and were also warned that if they did they would be arrested, he said.

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