Cambodia: Businessman Sues Villagers over Deforestation Allegations

PHNOM PENH – A powerful businessman is suing two villagers in Kandal province for defamation, after the two reported his alleged illegal logging to local human rights groups.

The Kandal provincial court has summoned the two villagers, Sen San and Ouk Sambo, to testify on Friday. But the two have asked for more time to find a lawyer.

Both appeared in a logging report by the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force that accused the company of businessman Try Pheap of major deforestation and the displacement of hundreds of families in forced evictions.

Chey Piseht, an assistant for Try Pheap, said the complaint was lodged “to seek clarification on what they told the NGO report.” The case will be withdrawn when the two “confess what they said in the [Task Force] report.”

Cambodia’s courts face round criticism for bias toward powerful interests, particularly in the lucrative timber trade.

Ouch Leng, president of the Task Force, said the lawsuit appeared to be designed for “shutting up whomever said the truth.”

Sen San, who was called to testify and is an activist for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, said he had only said a “few words” about Try Preah, who, he said, “got rich” from the timber trade.

“I saw his company transport wood past my house, and I heard as well that he had dozens of thousands of hectares of rubber and peppers,” he said. He called the complaint “motivated by political activities.”