Officials in Ratanakkiri province are investigating the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc for incitement after he helped villagers organize a demonstration, ultimately canceled, against a Vietnamese rubber company in O’Yadaw district.
District governor Dork Sar said Sunday that local authorities, including provincial governor Pao Ham Phan, held a meeting on Saturday to discuss evidence of incitement against Adhoc’s provincial investigator, Chhay Thy.
“The provincial governor ordered me to compile a detailed report for him about the activities of Mr. Chhay Thy working together with the villagers so far,” he said. “We will continue to search for the truth about whether Mr. Thy is really guilty [of incitement].”
Mr. Thy said Sunday that he met with about 100 ethnic Jarai residents from Paknhai commune’s Lom village on Thursday morning preparing for a demonstration against Company 72. The villagers accuse the firm of encroaching on communal land and illegally exporting wood harvested on its 6,000-hectare economic land concession (ELC) to Vietnam.
He denied inciting the villagers but said he did suggest the demonstration when they approached him for advice.
“I did not incite those villagers. I just gave them an idea when they asked for my help,” Mr. Thy said, adding that he had also helped the villagers register to have their communal forest, which overlaps with Company 72’s ELC, protected under Cambodia’s Land Law.
According to Romash Svat, chief of the Forestry Community Committee, a local environmental organization, Saturday’s demonstration against Company 72 was canceled after a group of 10 district and provincial police and military police met with villagers that morning.
“The provincial authorities told all of us to stop protesting against Company 72, and told villagers that they should ask for help from local authorities rather than asking for the intervention of Adhoc,” he said.
Ethnic minority groups traditionally live and farm communally, and their identity is intrinsically tied to the land and forests they inhabit.
However, local authorities in O’Yadaw district have pressured the Jarai residents of Lom village to apply for individual land titles rather than seeking protection of their communal forest, which would cover a much larger area than the combined individual tracts of land and provide more protection than the private titles.
Adhoc’s former provincial coordinator, Pen Bonnar, has also been accused of incitement for his work aiding ethnic villagers in the area.
Earlier this year, the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court’s prosecutor decided to drop defamation and incitement charges against Mr. Bonnar after a complaint was filed against him in 2009 by well-connected agro-industry firm DM Group.
In December, the provincial court also dropped another set of incitement charges against Mr. Bonnar and three others after CPP commune chief Kith Chem claimed they had incited members of an ethnic minority Tampoun community in Lumphat district to protest violently against DM Group in 2009.