NGO Accuses Sand Dredging Company of Illegal Detention

The environmental protection NGO Mother Nature has filed a complaint with the Koh Kong Provincial Court accusing employees of a sand dredging company of briefly detaining some of their members during a boat trip on the Tatai River last month.

According to Commerce Ministry records, the dredging company—Udom Seima Peanich Industry & Mine—is partially owned by Hun Mana and Hun Maly, the names of two of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s daughters.

In a statement released on Monday, Mother Nature accuses firm employee Mao Sitha and two unidentified Vietnamese men of illegally detaining their boat on December 6 while they were documenting environmental damage that the dredging company appeared to be inflicting on the river. The NGO provided a copy of the complaint against Mr. Sitha and his companions dated December 28.

The complaint says the three men held the Mother Nature members and everyone else in the boat—including the driver, a young girl and a British tourist—for more than an hour and a half and insisted on deleting all the photos and video they had taken of the dredging.

“Our purpose was to take pictures and video to show that the company is destroying natural resources,” Mother Nature member Mot Kimry, who was on the boat during the incident, said on Monday.

He said Mr. Sitha and the other two men used two company boats to approach them on the river and held on to their boat to prevent it from leaving until finally letting them go.

“We decided to file the complaint because we want the court to take action to find the company staff who illegally detained us and stop them from doing this again,” Mr. Kimry said.

The provincial court’s administration chief, Sou Sarvannara, declined to comment on the case. The chief prosecutor, Bou Bunhain, said he knew nothing about it before hanging up.

Udom Seima vice chairman At Seima denied that his staff had illegally detained anyone.

“We just wanted to question them because they came without showing any identification,” he said. “They are an anarchic group that always causes disturbances.”

Mother Nature members have been detained by authorities in Koh Kong on several occasions over their activism against sand dredging operations and a proposed hydropower dam in the province.

When asked if the prime minister’s daughters were in fact shareholders in Udom Seima, Mr. Seima replied “Come ask [them] yourself” and hung up.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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