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In Court Deal, Investigator Leaves Province

A prominent human rights investigator has been pulled from Ratanakkiri province after he came under investigation from the provincial court for incitement, officials said Thursday.

In a deal with the court, Pen Bunnar, an investigator for the respected rights monitor Adhoc, will be transferred to another province, Adhoc officials said.

Pen Bunnar had worked in Ratanakkiri, which suffers a high rate of land-grabs and other abuses, for the past five years.

He was charged with incitement of violence when he attempted to coordinate the assembly of 121 families in a dispute over 200 hectares of land with the DM Group, Ltd., in Lumphat district.

Chan Saveth, chief of Adhoc’s monitoring unit, said Pen Bunnar will be moved to Svay Rieng province and will be replaced by another investigator, Sam Arin, who will move over from Mondolkiri province.

Chan Saveth said Adhoc wished to “reduce the conflict” between his group and the provincial authorities “because the conflict benefits neither side.”

“To protect people’s interests, Adhco had to soften its stance to join and cooperate with the provincial authority in the direction of developing human rights,” he said.

Ratanakkiri judge Thor Saron said the court had advised an umbrella group of rights organizations, “particularly Adhoc,” to move Pen Bunnar “to solve the penal charge.”

“If Pen Bunnar has no duty in the territory of Rattanakiri province, it is easy to end the case and the court can compromise, drop his case and avoid [his] detention,” the judge said. “A newcomer has not made any mistakes in Ratanakkiri province, and a new person can make a good relationship with and work with all levels of the provincial authorities.”

Pen Bunnar told VOA Khmer Thursday he was leaving.

“I hope the natural environment will not be destroyed by illegal deforestation when I leave the province,” he said.