Areng Activist Summoned Over Deforestation Complaint

The Koh Kong Provincial Court has summoned an environmental activist living in the Areng Valley for questioning over allegations that he felled trees in a forest in order to build a community center, rights workers said Sunday.

The summons, dated February 25 and signed by prosecutor Bou Bun Hang, orders Ven Vorn, 36—an ethnic Chong villager who worked closely with recently deported Spanish activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson—to appear before the court on March 10 to answer questions over a complaint filed against him by the Forestry Administration’s Koh Kong cantonment in January.

The summons does not say what Mr. Vorn is accused of, and court officials could not be reached.

However, In Kongchet, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said the Forestry Administration claims Mr. Vorn cut down trees inside a designated forest in order to build a community center in Thma Baing district’s Chumnap commune. He said the accusation was groundless, and meant to intimidate an activist vocally opposed to a planned hydropower dam that would flood the Areng Valley and force him and hundreds of other Chong villagers from their ancestral land.

“The forestry officials filed a legal complaint against him,” Mr. Kongchet said. “But he didn’t do anything against the law. He just cut down normal trees to build a community center for holding meetings.”

“He [Mr. Vorn] joined hands with Mr. Alex to protect the forest because he didn’t want a hydropower dam in Areng to be constructed. This is an act of using the court system to threaten him, to reduce his courage.”

Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson was deported last month on the grounds that he helped set up an illegal roadblock on the main route leading into the valley in September.

Oum Meakeary, chief of the Forestry Administration’s Koh Kong cantonment, denied that anyone in the office had filed a complaint against Mr. Vorn.

“If he goes to court, he will find out who filed a complaint against him,” he said, refusing to comment further.

Sun Mala, who co-founded the NGO Mother Nature with Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson in an effort to prevent construction of the 108-MW Stung Cheay Areng dam, said the timing of the Forestry Administration’s complaint against Mr. Vorn was suspicious.

“This could be an intimidation strategy, because when Mr. Alex was there, there was no complaint,” he said.

“This is a strategy to threaten and split up the community voices so the company can go develop a dam inside Areng.”

Mr. Vorn could not be reached on Sunday, but both Mr. Kongchet and Mr. Mala said he would heed the court summons.

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