Cambodia Arrests Former Opposition Official Over ‘Debt to Microfinance Institution’

A rights group calls the move the latest in a string of ‘arbitrary’ arrests of CNRP members.

Cambodia Arrests Former Opposition Official Over ‘Debt to Microfinance Institution’

Authorities in Cambodia arrested a former official of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on Monday over what they claimed was a “debt to a microfinance institution,” according to his wife, amid an ongoing government crackdown on the opposition.

Sok Chenda, a member of the CNRP’s now-dissolved Prey Veng Provincial Council, was taken into custody at his home in Kram village and sent to the capital Phnom Penh “without a warrant,” his wife Soun Chanthu told RFA’s Khmer Service, echoing reports of similar tactics used by police to arrest opposition members in recent months.

“They came to arrest my husband after 3:00 p.m. and took him to Phnom Penh,” Soun Chanthu said of the large group of authorities who surrounded the couple’s home.

“All they said was that my husband had a debt with a microfinance institution,” she said.

While Soun Chanthu acknowledged that Sok Chenda is in debt to a microlender, she did not specify which one or how much he owes.

It was also not immediately clear where authorities took Sok Chenda in the capital.

Chhay Kim Kheoun, spokesperson of the National Police, refused to comment when asked by RFA about the former CNRP official’s arrest by telephone.

Soeung Senkarona, spokesman for Cambodian rights group Adhoc, told RFA he also does not know Sok Chenda’s location.

But he suggested that the government had been using the spread of the coronavirus to legitimize what he called the “arbitrary” arrests of nearly a dozen CNRP members since the outbreak was first confirmed in Cambodia in January.

“I think [these arrests are] politically motivated, rather than a proper implementation of the law, because they were made [without warrants],” he said.

Overcrowded prison

Sok Chenda’s arrest came as the wife of detained former CNRP chief of Toul Kok commune Khem Phearna told RFA that her husband, who suffers from hypertension, had called her from Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison, saying that overcrowded conditions are forcing detainees in his cell to take turns sleeping, sitting, and standing.

“He said he is in shock and when I heard what he told me, my heart almost stopped beating,” said Sok Polyma.

“However, I am trying to stay strong mentally because if I fall sick, nobody will be able to help my husband. I am so worried for his safety.”

Sok Polyma pleaded for Prime Minister Hun Sen to grant her husband bail so that he can receive treatment for his medical condition.

Prison spokesperson Nuth Savana dismissed Sok Polyma’s claim that Prey Sar is overcrowded, saying the government recently relocated 200 prisoners to detention centers outside of the city.

“She simply told the media, unofficially, and told the media to ask me,” he said.

“Anybody can come up with this kind of claim. She should submit a complaint to the Ministry of Interior.”

But deputy director of Cambodian rights group Licadho’s Human Rights Investigation Team, Am Sam Ath, told RFA that his organization has documented overcrowding at Prey Sar and other prisons, and said authorities have done little to resolve the problem.

He called on the country’s courts to expedite pending cases and release detainees being held for minor crimes.

As of April, Cambodian prisons hold some 38,500 detainees—only around 10,000 of whom have been tried and convicted.

Call to expedite investigation

Also, on Monday, the family of a CNRP activist who died six months ago while being taken into custody by authorities called on court authorities to expedite an investigation into her case and provide them with justice.

Sam Bopha, 48, from Svay Rieng province had been involved in an argument with her husband in October last year after his father—a former elected official with the CNRP—“confessed” to authorities about acting party chief Sam Rainsy’s planned return on Nov. 9 to “restore democracy” in Cambodia, which the government had labelled part of a “coup attempt” and ultimately blocked.

Sam Bopha’s father-in-law filed a domestic abuse complaint against her with the police, who came to detain her at her home, but she was killed after she fell from an officer’s motorbike en route to the local station, her brother Sam Dina told RFA at the time, suggesting that the arrest appeared “politically motivated” because of the large police response to a family dispute.

On Monday, Sam Dina questioned why the Svay Rieng Provincial Court has “dragged its feet” on the investigation into his sister’s death.

“We have plenty of evidence, including photos and video, showing when the police officers came to arrest my sister at her home,” he said.

“We submitted this evidence to the court long ago, so why does it continue to delay the case?”

The victim’s lawyer, Sam Sok Kong, told RFA that court officials have only spoken with the family once since the complaint was filed in November.

“Dragging things on without expediting the investigation really impacts due process and justice for the victim,” he said.

Svay Rieng Provincial Court deputy prosecutor Chhiv Echkong attributed the delay to the recent appointment of a new prosecutor, Kam Sophary.

“He just arrived, so he is unfamiliar with the case,” he said, adding that he will speak with Kam Sophary about the matter.

Human rights campaigners and her lawyer have called the arrest of Sam Bopha “arbitrary and forceful,” and said the police who took her into custody should be held accountable for her death.

Warrants issued

Also, on Monday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued arrest warrants dated April 20 for Heang Kimreoun, a former official with the smaller opposition Beehive Social Democratic Party and the head of his party’s youth wing, Thol Sophanna, for alleged “incitement to commit crimes” and “public insults.”

The two men have been in hiding after Heang Kimreoun made comments critical of the government’s handling of border issues with Vietnam, and Monday’s warrants followed a complaint submitted to the court by Pich Sros, the president of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party-affiliated Cambodian Youth Party.

Speaking to RFA from an undisclosed location on Monday, Heang Kimreoun called the court order to arrest him and Thol Sophanna “illegitimate” because it violates his right to freedom of expression.

“I am a victim of the improper implementation of law in Cambodia because [the warrant] is not based on rule of law, but rule of lip,” he said.

In December, Cambodia signed a treaty for the country’s border with Vietnam which is based on a combination of border treaties the two countries used in 1985 and 2005, and recognizes 84 percent of the border’s current demarcation.

Border activists say that the legislation will cede land to Vietnam because it is based in part on the 1985 treaty, which was enacted after Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979 to oust the Khmer Rouge regime and installed a puppet government to run the country.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Myanmar Army Grills Dozens of Rakhine Villagers Over Alleged Rebel Ties

A village administrator is among nearly 40 men held for questioning before 33 are released.

Myanmar Army Grills Dozens of Rakhine Villagers Over Alleged Rebel Ties

Myanmar soldiers detained nearly 40 villagers on Sunday, but later released most of them, about a week after government forces hit their community with artillery shells amid the larger armed conflict with rebel Arakan Army troops in war-torn Rakhine state, a local lawmaker and a resident said.

Government forces killed seven young men and one woman and injured more than a dozen others, including two children, during the Apr. 13 assault on Kyauk Seik village in Ponnagyun township. The shelling forced many other residents to flee.

Six days later, soldiers detained 39 male residents between the ages of 18 and 55, including a village administrator, to determine if they had ties to the AA, but in the evening released 33 of them, Oo Tun Maung, a lawmaker from Ponnagyun township told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“I assume they were taken to Battalion No. 55, but I can’t say for sure,” he said prior to the release of some of the men. “I am waiting for details about the situation and will do what I can after I know where they were taken to.”

A Kyauk Seik resident, who declined to be identified out of fear for his safety, also said that Myanmar forces took away the 39 men.

“A government army unit came into the village and asked all men to gather at the village head’s house,” he said. “After that, they took away the village head and 38 men.”

Oo Tun Maung told RFA late Sunday that 33 of the detainees had been released.

Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said soldiers had detained the men because of suspected ties to the Arakan Army (AA), a mostly ethnic Rakhine force that has been fighting the government army for the past 15 months in a quest for greater autonomy in the western state.

“We took 38 men because they are suspected of having connections with the AA,” Zaw Min Tun said prior to the release of some. “They are under investigation, and the army will take action accordingly based on the investigation results.”

AA spokesman Khine Thukha said that it was possible the men were being detained because they informed the media about government army’s Apr. 13 attack on their village.

“This kind of action by the government army is a war crime,” he added.

Following that assault, villagers said they found a shell cover with markings indicating that it belonged to the Myanmar Army, though the military later denied it belonged to its forces.

In March, the Myanmar government declared the AA an illegal association and terrorist group.

The AA and two other ethnic armies declared a unilateral truce during the month of April while the country battles the spread of the contagious coronavirus, but the pact has not held up in Rakhine state.

Fighting between Myanmar and Arakan forces meanwhile continues in other Rakhine townships with the conflict displacing more than 160,000 civilians since early 2019, according to the Rakhine Ethnics Congress, a local relief group.

About 86 civilians died and more than 200 were injured amid the hostilities between Feb. 26 and April 20, according to a tally by RFA.

Paletwa gets rice

More than 10,000 residents and internally displaced persons (IDPs) affected by the conflict in remote Paletwa township of neighboring Chin state have received a week’s worth of food aid for the first time in six weeks, local authorities said.

About 830 bags of rice and some dried rations were sent by ferry and cargo truck from Samee to Paletwa town which has been facing a severe food shortage since early March amid the ongoing hostilities in the region.

Local authorities said there was enough rice to provide two cups to each of about 3,700 IDPs for three weeks or enough for only a week if the supply was distributed to all 7,000 residents of the town.

In the meantime, Paletwa authorities said they would continue to ration food supplies for the next three months.

The rice was distributed immediately to those living in IDP camps and to working-class residents of Paletwa as part of the government’s coronavirus relief efforts, said Soe Htet, Chin state’s minister of municipal affairs, electricity, and industry.

“We got a telegram yesterday telling us to distribute the rice to all residents, government employees, and IDPs for a week,” he told RFA, adding that another 1,500 bags of rice are waiting to be transported.

“If the situation is stable, and the roads are accessible, we will transport these rice bag,” he added.

Though Paletwa is accessible by road from Samee after crossing the Kaladan River Bridge, the rice is now being transported by both road and river because of concerns of armed attacks along the way.

‘Not everything we need’

Myanmar’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement has secured about 6,000 bags of rice, or a three months’ supply, for Paletwa township residents and stored them at a facility in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe. Another 3,300 bags from donors are stored in the town of Samee.

The conflict between the AA and government military in the region has disrupted road transportation, preventing rice supplies from reaching Paletwa on a regular basis.

The first batch of 850 bags transported from Samee by 11 trucks in mid-March reached the town because they were guarded by military troops along the way.

Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun this measure will continue to ensure the rest of the bags of rice reach Paletwa.

“We were only guarding the trucks, while local authorities, civil society organizations, and religious leaders received the rice bags,” he said.

“As far as I know, we will continue transporting these rice bags until local authorities have enough rice supplies for at least three months,” he added.

Chin state parliamentarian Salai Myo Htike, who represents the Paletwa township constituency, said authorities and resident alike were pleased about getting the latest food shipment.

“We are glad that the rice supplies finally arrived in Paletwa,” he said. “But this is not everything we need, so we hope the remaining transports go well.”

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service, Translated by Khet Mar and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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