Gov’t Officials, Plainclothes Police Crash Village Protest Meeting

Kandal province villagers frustrated into protest by months of sand dredging received a surprise visit from plainclothes police officers and local officials on Wednesday morning, they said.

The group was expecting a meeting with representatives of a sand dredging company and the Mines and Energy Ministry when the officials arrived, in what the villagers said was part of an effort to intimidate them.

Frustrations have mounted over months of dredging in Sa’ang district that villagers say has caused erosion along the banks of the Tonle Sap, leading to the destruction of 10 homes and the disruption of their lives. It sparked a 200-person protest in Raka Khpos commune on Monday that led to the arrest of environmental NGO activist Hun Vannak.

On Wednesday, villagers said 10 police officers dressed in civilian clothes escorted deputy provincial governor Nhem Vantha and Raka Khpos commune chief Um Rin to the home of 42-year-old Mut Mum, which has served as an unofficial meeting place for residents who say their complaints to authorities have fallen on deaf ears.

Prior to the visit, three residents—including Ms. Mum—said they had also received letters asking them to report to district authorities for questioning.

“They sent a letter to me saying that I am creating turmoil in the area. I decided not to go because I already had a plan to meet with the company and the Ministry of Mines and Energy, then these guys did not show up. Instead, we were visited by the police and district officers,” said another villager, Hem Hoeun, 32.

The officers left after warning the villagers to stop causing turmoil, Mr. Hoeun said.

Mr. Rin, the Raka Khpos commune chief, said he asked villagers to suspend their protests and allow authorities time to negotiate with dredgers.

“We asked them to keep calm. We need time to work with the upper-level,” Mr. Rin said.

But villagers said the impromptu visit and notice letters were intimidation that would not end their protest.

“They keep promising and don’t take any action. Ten machines operating and the earth is shaking—I can’t bear it,” Ms. Mum said.

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