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Thousands in Capital March for Rights

Some 5,000 human rights activists and supporters marched through Phnom Penh on Thursday, as Cambodia marked International Human Rights Day.

The group marched from Wat Phnom in the north of the city, to the central Wat Botum Vadei. City and police officials allowed the march, the largest such gathering since national political campaigning in July 2008. No incidents were reported.

“We still have concerns about serious rights violence related to the slow pace of judiciary reform and continued impunity,” Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, told the marchers.

Land grabs, forced evictions and threats to human rights advocates and government critics remained problems, he said, while freedom of expression was under threat.

Human trafficking remains a concern, he said, as well as the theft of ethnic minority land in Ratanakkiri province by “powerful men conspiring with companies.”

The march came the same week that 1,700 families were evicted from land in Kampong Thom province, in a three-year land dispute with a Vietnamese rubber plantation. Seven people were jailed after villagers torched three bulldozers and a company generator in protest of an eviction order.

Rights advocates also pointed to recent attacks on the opposition and other government critics, citing criminal cases and the suspension of parliamentary immunity for three Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers, including the opposition leader himself.

Of concern, too, was the sentencing of Hang Chakra, an opposition newspaper editor, to a year in jail after he published articles alleging corruption in the powerful Council of Ministers.

“You can be sure that you are not alone here today,” the European Commission Charge d’Affaire, Rafael Dochao Moreno, told participants Thursday. “You have all Europeans with you.”

The EU has 20 human rights projects in Cambodia, he said, but added, “We are not here to solve your problems. We are here to facilitate dialogues between the government and civil society.”

The EU announced Wednesday a donation of $1.3 million for human rights projects in Cambodia.