Natural Resource NGO Staff Targeted for Violence and Intimidation

Published on May 28, 2009
27-year-old Keo Kob, a CNRPO staff member being treated for his gunshot wound to the stomach

Staff of a small environmental watchdog organization, the Cambodian Natural Resource Protection Organization (CNRPO), have come under repeated attack in recent months in a bid to deter them from their work to combat illegal logging in Koh Kong province.

On December 21, 2008, six CNRPO staff who were patrolling for illegal loggers in a small boat were shot at by police officers. The shooting, which occurred at about 9.30am in Phni Meas commune of Kiri Sakor district, was allegedly committed by three commune policemen whom CNRPO had previously accused of involvement in illegal logging. Three bullets were fired at the workers' boat, one of them striking 27-year-old Keo Kob, a CNRPO staff, in the stomach.

District police officers failed to respond to calls for help from the CNRPO staff, but officials from the Botum Sakor National Park Authority intervened at the scene of the shooting and transported the CNRPO staff to safety. Keo Kob was taken to hospital for treatment.

To date, the police who fired the shots have not been arrested or even suspended from their jobs.

Instead, in a bizarre turn of events, two of the victims - including Keo Kob, who had been injured - were themselves arrested by authorities two months after the shooting. On February 16, 2009 Keo Kob and his boss, CNRPO provincial director Keo Ya, were arrested and imprisoned for pre-trial detention after being charged with illegal logging. Koh Kong Provincial Court investigating judge Heng Kes Ro ordered their arrests, after he had received a complaint of illegal logging from Nhel Tun, chief of Botum Sakor National Park Authority. Nhel Tun denied he had made any such complaint.

After intervention by LICADHO, the court released the two men on bail on February 28, 2009. The investigating judge later stated that he would likely drop the charges due to lack of evidence, but needed some time to conduct further investigations.

Meanwhile, in another apparent act of intimidation against CNRPO, the home of another of its staff, Youk Choun, was burned down on March 15. No one was in the house at the time, as he and his family had fled to Thailand following the December shooting. He has however since returned to Cambodia.
At least one other CNRPO staff member who was involved in the December shooting still remains in hiding in Thailand, afraid for his life if he returns to Cambodia.

A complaint against the police officers who committed the shooting has been filed with the provincial court but it has yet to order the arrests and detention of the alleged perpetrators. On May 7, 2009, the court invited the six CNRPO staff members present during the December 21 shooting incident to the court to answer questions. After the questioning, the court said that it would conduct further investigations.

LICADHO condemns the pattern of intimidation against CNRPO, including the filing of baseless criminal charges against two of its staff, and urges the authorities to take action to ensure the safety of the organization's staff and to bring all perpetrators of acts of violence and intimidation against them to justice.