The United Nations' rights office in Cambodia is
investigating the case of a local man who has been missing since the
day after he was arrested in northern Preah Vihear province in late
January, the office's country representative said on Wednesday.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) carried out a fact-finding mission earlier this month "with respect to one man who is missing since 21 January after being arrested...the day before," Simon Walker, OHCHR Representative, said in an email. The missing person, Sum Meun, 54, has been accused by the government of illegal logging and fleeing custody.
Meun was a main community representative in an ongoing land conflict between hundreds of families and a company granted an 8,000-hectare land concession, which includes a rubber plantation, local rights group Licadho told dpa. Meun "has now gone missing for over a month," said Naly Piliorge, Licadho's director.
"The arrest took place as conflicts between locals and the company had been worsening." The day before he went missing, Meun was "beaten and arrested alongside his son" by soldiers who were guarding the concession granted to the Metrei Pheap Kase Ousahakam company, Pilorge said.
The soldiers brought the two men to environment officers from the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary who detained them overnight. Meun was last seen in the environment office, Pilorge added. Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said Meun had fled custody on January 21 after he and his son were arrested by local authorities and company security guards a day earlier.
"He is believed to have escaped from the office and his relatives communicated with him and know that he is in the capital," Pheaktra said, citing a provincial environment department report. The Preah Vihear provincial court charged Meun and 14 others - the latter have been detained pending court proceedings - under the nation's protected areas law for allegedly felling trees, encroaching or clearing forest land, the spokesman said.
They face maximum fines of about 62,500 dollars if convicted. Authorities are appealing for Meun to appear in court, Pheaktra said. The Environment Ministry granted the Metrei Pheap Kase Ousahakam company a 8,520-hectare land concession from the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary for a term of 70 years in 2012 to invest in rubber, other crops and animal husbandry, according to OpenDevelopment Cambodia's website.
A company representative could not be immediately reached for comment. Land conflicts between villagers, private companies and politically connected tycoons have been a lingering problem in the aftermath of Pol Pot's genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, which eliminated individual property rights and land titles in the 1970s.
Some 1.7 million people died from starvation, torture, execution and forced labour under the regime. Defence Ministry spokesman General Chhum Sucheat told dpa that the government was "very worried" about the event that occurred in Preah Vihear, but it was not the ministry's duty to investigate. Sucheat said Meun's relatives should file a complaint with local authorities.
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