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Rights Workers Decry Plantation's 'Illegal' Detention of 17 People

Human rights workers and opposition lawmakers decried the detention of 17 people, most of them schoolgirls, by rubber plantation security in Kampong Cham province. The detainees have been accused of stealing the company's lumber, but their extrajudicial holding by plantation security guards has rights workers concerned. Human rights officials and eye witnesses VOA Khmer the arrests took place Tuesday morning at the Kampong Cham-based company about 200 kilometers from Phnom Penh.

Kau Chesda, a Sam Rainsy Party clerk for Ta Ong commune, said about a dozen 13- to 14-year-old primary school girls in Chamkar Leu town and perhaps five more people were arrested, but there were no reports or mistreatment.

Plantation management, including the director, Kim Leang, could not be reached for comment.

The 17 people were detained because four armed plantation guards caught them picking resin from the ground, Kau Chesda said.

A rights investigator, Chan Cheng, called the arrest illegal.

"I think the offense is unimportant and the offenders are poor, and the 12 13-year-old school children who are poor, and poor jobs," Chan Cheng said. "I take this occasion to appeal to all level authorities, especially the rubber plantation guards, to free the people and the school children."

Local police official Uk Kim Sroy said the people may have been trying to destroy the bark of the trees and not picking resin from the ground.

"The resin belongs to them and they take care of it," he said. "We cannot just go and pluck their resin."