Cambodian Fishing Villages Fear Job Loss Due to Mangrove Beach Development Plans

A company linked to Cambodia's ruling party says it wants to build a port, satellite city, and golf course in the coastal area.

Cambodian Fishing Villages Fear Job Loss Due to Mangrove Beach Development Plans

Thousands of villagers in southern Cambodia’s Kampot province are fearing loss of their fishing rights amid plans by a company linked to the ruling party to develop large stretches of a coastal mangrove forest for a port, satellite city, and golf course, residents said Thursday.

Local residents say they will resist plans by the Ching Kor Import Export Co. Ltd to fill in access to the mangroves and beach, on which they depend for their survival, Prek Tnout commune chief Ouk Sovannarith told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“They are very worried and have protested to the authorities and company over the investment project in [our commune] in monthly meetings and whenever public information sessions are held,” he said.

Though Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has promised not to allow any private company to fill in the beach at Prek Tnout, villagers still fear loss of their jobs because company officials continue to pressure them to agree to company plans, he said.

Most residents of the community are poor and have taken out loans from banks to invest in their fishing business, he said, adding that they rely now on steady work to pay back their debts.

“Right now, the people here can make 50,000 to 100,000 to 200,000 riel [U.S. $12.50, 25, to 50] per day by fishing,” he said.

Thousands of residents of three Prek Tnout commune villages—Prek Tnout, Chong Houn, and Trepeang Ropov—have depended on family fishing for their survival for many generations, local fisherman Mitt Chamrern said.

“I won’t know what to do if they fill in the beach,” he said. “Only young people will be able to work for the company [if development plans go ahead]. Old people won’t be able to do it,” he said.

“I can make some money now from fishing for my family to live on, but if they take away the beach, my fishing business will be lost,” he said.

Plans still under review

Company plans are still under study, though, Kampot provincial governor Chieu Tay said, adding that government authorities won’t do anything to harm the livelihood of commune residents.

“Nothing is official yet, so don’t worry so much,” he said. “The government will not do anything that affects the people. All of this is still under study, and we’ll know more for sure when the study is concluded.”

Calls seeking comment from the Ching Kor Import Export Co. Ltd—owned by Srey Keo Maly, a former senator of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party—rang unanswered this week on a line displayed on the company website.

Cambodian government spokesperson Phai Siphan meanwhile denied knowledge of the investment project when reached by phone for comment.

“Social and environmental impact assessments must be conducted in order to see what impacts a project will have,” said Ministry of Environment spokesperson Neth Pheaktra, speaking to RFA on May 12.

“Then, solutions will be offered to minimize the project’s social and environmental impacts,” he said.

“If the company fills up the beach, what can these people do, and where can they go, to earn a living?” asked Yun Phally, Kampot provincial coordinator for the Cambodian rights group Adhoc.

“If the beach is taken away by the company, their family finances will be ruined, and they won’t be able to repay their banks.”

Many already forced out

Hundreds of families in Kampot’s Chong Houn community have already lost their fishing areas to the Try Pheap Group Co. Ltd—owned by powerful Hun Sen ally Try Pheap—and have had to move to Prek Tnout themselves to find work, he said.

The Try Pheap Group, which began work on its own seaport in 2017, has already built a wall two kilometers long along the seashore to prevent villagers from entering the area, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

Land disputes are a bitter problem in Cambodia, where rural villagers and urban dwellers alike have been mired in conflicts that a U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia has warned could threaten the country’s stability.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Myanmar Begins Probe of WHO Staff Killing in Rakhine Amid Skepticism

A government spokesman has already pinned the killing on the Arakan Army.

Myanmar Begins Probe of WHO Staff Killing in Rakhine Amid Skepticism

An investigative team formed by the Myanmar government to probe the shooting death of a local World Health Organization worker in volatile Rakhine state last month has begun its probe, local lawmakers said, but witnesses say they are afraid and rights activists say they believe the government will use the process to blame its foe, the Arakan Army.

Unknown gunmen fired on a U.N.-marked vehicle driven by local WHO employee Pyae Sone Win Maung and Myanmar health department worker Aung Myo Oo, who were transporting COVID-19 test samples from the conflict zone to Yangon on April 20.

It is still not know whether the Myanmar military or the rebel Arakan Army (AA) was behind the shooting in Minbya township, though both sides have blamed the other for the ambush that killed Pyae Sone Win Muang and injured Aung Myo Oo.

The investigative team began their work on Wednesday in Rakhine's capital Sittwe.

“We can say they have started their investigative work since they are in Rakhine state,” state lawmaker Hla Thein Aung from Minbya township told RFA on Thursday. “They have met with members of the state government. They also have met with the state parliament speaker.

“The speaker suggested that they meet with persons concerned on the ground,” he added.

State lawmakers also recommended that the investigative committee take measures to protect the safety of witnesses to the shooting.

“As far as we know, the witnesses are scared of them,” said Aung Win, a state lawmaker who represents Myebon township. “They should show that they can protect the witnesses for whatever testimonies they provide.”

“Both military troops and the AA fired the gunshots, so it’s difficult to conclude who is responsible for the shooting,” he said. “But we’ve got the witnesses, so it is essential to give them protection from possible danger on account of whatever information they provide.”

Dr. Aung Thurein, a member of the investigative committee, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that he was not ready to answer media questions.

Myanmar President Office spokesman Zaw Htay told a press conference on May 1 that an investigation would be conducted to satisfy the international community because an employee from an international organization was killed.

He also said that the probe would confirm that AA was responsible for the attack.

Meetings are ‘superficial’

Aung Myo Min, director of Equality Myanmar, a human rights education group, said Zaw Htay’s comments blaming the AA could undermine the investigative committee’s objectivity.

“That the spokesman of the President’s Office accused the AA is irresponsible,” he told RFA. “He said the committee is investigating the incident only to relieve international pressure.”

“This statement could affect the objectivity of the committee,” he said. “It suggests that the committee’s work will be focused on finding proof that the AA is responsible, so it will limit its efforts to deliver justice and to determine the real parties responsible for the attack, depending on the situation on the ground.”

Nearly 300 local domestic groups issued a statement on April 23 requesting that the government form an independent and objective committee to investigate the deadly incident.

Zaw Zaw Tun, secretary of the Rakhine Ethnics Congress, one of the organizations appealing for justice, said it is not yet known whether the investigative committee members will meet with Myanmar and Arakan soldiers involved in the shooting, but suggested that this would not affect the outcome of the probe.

“They should have the authority to meet all the witnesses on the ground and all the parties involved in the incident to accurately assess what happened,” he told RFA.

“The meetings with members of the state parliament and state government are just superficial,” he added. “We want to know if the committee will have an opportunity to meet with troops of both sides. If they cannot, it won’t make any difference.”

AA spokesman Khine Thukha told RFA on May 1 that the rebel force, which is fighting Myanmar troops for greater autonomy for the Rakhine people in the state, would not cooperate with the investigative committee, but would work only with an independent, international probe.

Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier Gen Zaw Min Tun said soldiers will cooperate with the investigation.

“The military will cooperate with the investigative committee formed by the President’s Office and will help it conduct the investigation on the ground,” he said. “We believe it will produce objective findings.”

Myanmar has launched a series of investigations of military misdeeds, but none have produced results judged meaningful by victims or human rights experts.

"The lack of independence of Myanmar’s judges, as well as the current constitutional and legal framework that prevents the civilian authorities from holding the military or its members accountable for human rights violations significantly dim the prospects for any credible justice mechanism in Myanmar,” Human Rights Watch said in a December 2019 analysis.

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi (standing) addresses the judges of the International Court of Justice during a three-day hearing on the Rohingya genocide case against Myanmar at The Hague, the Netherlands, Dec. 11, 2019. Credit: Associated Press
ICJ compliance report

Myanmar is scheduled to submit its first compliance report to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) next week, a spokesman from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Thursday, though he did not reveal the contents of the document.

The country faces a trial on genocide charges at the international tribunal for the alleged military-led expulsion of more than 740,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh amid a brutal crackdown on Muslim communities in northern Rakhine state beginning in August 2017. Myanmar has denied the genocide charges, largely without addressing the evidence or specific accusations.

In January, the ICJ ordered Myanmar to implement provisional measures to protect the Rohingya from genocide, preserve evidence of alleged crimes that could be used in later hearings, and report on its compliance with the measures until the court issues a final decision on the case.

The first report is due by May 23, with follow-up reports required every six months until the court renders a final decision on the case.

“I cannot say much,” Chan Aye, director-general of the ministry’s international organizations and economic department, told RFA. “The only thing I can say is that we are going to submit the report before that date. We will submit it on time.”

‘No progress’

The Myanmar military, meanwhile, is conducting a court-martial of soldiers accused of killing Rohingya civilians in Rakhine’s Gu Dar Pyin village in August 2017, as recommended in the report of the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) that the Myanmar government set up to probe the crackdown

“Some of our work is related to the ICOE report’s suggestions,” Chan Aye said. “The government formed ICOE before the issues got to the ICJ.”

“Both the Office of the Attorney General and the military are working to fulfill the ICOE’s suggestions.”

Khon Ja, coordinator of the Kachin Peace Network, said she has not seen any progress with human rights for the Rohingya, who are viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and subject to systematic discrimination.

“So far, I haven’t seen any progress,” she told RFA. “The international pressure could relieve some problems for the Rohingya.”

“Violations are still rampant in Rakhine and in southern Chin state, as we have seen,” she said, referring to violence targeting civilians amid the armed conflict between Myanmar troops and the AA.

“These crimes may not account for genocide, but they may account for war crimes,” Khon Ja added. “Many rights violations are occurring,”

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

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