Banlung Governor Tells Land Dispute Villagers To Settle Out of Court

Banlung City Governor Ly Vinth yesterday told around 250 ethnic minority villagers involved in land disputes in Ratanakkiri province that they should settle their disputes out of court.

“The best solution is that no one sue the companies and individuals who purchase the land,” Mr Vinth said, adding that he told the same to villagers who attended a public forum on land disputes yesterday in the provincial capital.

“Negotiating out-of-court settlements is the best method for local villagers,” he said.

“We cannot listen to only one side because there are bad people in these [minority] communities who sell the land to companies and individuals,” he said by telephone. “I just gave them my personal idea, based on the government’s win-win policy, to stop suing and battling at court because it will cost a lot of money and time.”

Jarai ethnic minority villager Sev Thvel, who attended yesterday’s forum, said he was surprised by the governor’s advice.

Mr Thvel, from O’Yadaw district’s Pate commune, is one of dozens of families embroiled in a years-long court battle with Keat Kolney, the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon, over 450 hectares of land.

“We expected that it would be hard to get the support of parliamentarians as well as upper level leaders in the land issues of indigenous villagers,” Mr Thvel said. “The city governor discouraged us and told us not to sue the firms and powerful individuals who grab our land.”

Contact information was not available yesterday for Ms Kolney or her lawyer.

Sven Vev, a Tampoun man from Lumphat district’s Batang commune, said that “it is quite sad that government officials are always on the side of the powerful companies.”

Mr Vev is one of two ethnic Tampoun men who were jailed for about half a year beginning in 2008 over a long-running land dispute with the well-connected DM Group. Both men have been summoned to appear next week at the provincial court.

Say Chamroeun, a senior representative for the DM Group who is also a provincial-level civil servant, said his firm purchased the land legally from the villagers.

According to local rights group Adhoc, more than 600 families from ethnic minority communities are currently involved in land disputes in Ratanakkiri province.

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