Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Expense could threaten petition for Pen Bonnar's return: organiser

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Chrann Chamroeun

ETHNIC minority villagers in Ratanakkiri province said Tuesday that a petition campaign seeking the reinstatement of a former provincial human rights advocate faces a shortage of finances and may have to be cancelled.

Chuk Savath, 50, from O'Chum district, said he began the campaign last week to appeal to provincial Governor Pav Horm Phan for the return of Pen Bonnar, a provincial coordinator for the rights group Licadho, who was reassigned to Phnom Penh on August 6.

Pen Bonnar had represented ethnic minority villagers for nearly a decade until provincial judge Thor Saron suggested earlier this month that he leave the province or face prosecution on charges of defamation, incitement and terrorism.

Pen Bonnar has denied wrongdoing and says no charges have yet been filed.

Chuk Savath said he has collected thumbprints from about 100 villagers in O'Chum district, but plans to visit three others - O'Yadav, Borkeo and Lumphat - were in jeopardy because he could not afford to continue much longer.

"I am worried that my money has almost run out," he said, adding that appeals to other supporters of the ousted rights coordinator have refused to help the campaign for fear of being arrested.

Chuk Savath acknowledged that he had doubts that the campaign would do any good, but that he was committed to honouring Pen Bonnar's work on behalf of the province's ethnic minority communities by seeking his return.

Pav Horm Phan could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, but Morn Saroeun, deputy provincial governor, told the Post that villagers had every right to conduct the campaign.

"People are free to petition the governor. I believe he will consider the petition when he receives it, but I can't say which way he will decide," Morn Saroeun said.

Pen Bonnar expressed his gratitude Tuesday for the efforts to return him to the province.

"This is a success for ethnic minority communities to show such bravery in standing up to local authorities to seek a non-violent solution," he said.

He added that whether or not he would be allowed to return, he was resolved to continue supporting the villagers.

"I want to complete my mission to train villagers to understand their legal rights," he said.

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