Court Plans To Resolve O’Chum Land Disputes

Ratanakkiri Provincial Court officials plan to visit villagers embroiled in a dispute in O’Chum district on Tuesday to convince them to give up their claim on land in Ekka­p­heap commune.

Two of the villagers have been jailed since appearing in court for questioning on Jan 5, another has been hospitalized in Phnom Penh following an attack whose motive has yet to be determined and two failed to appear for questioning in court last week.

Villagers Chan Pheu and Khao Ry were arrested after being charg­ed with allegedly infringing on the prop­erty rights of Khit Sok Khay, who has laid claim to the land on which the villagers have farmed for years.

On Tuesday, provincial authorities received a letter from the Na­tional As­­­­­sem­b­­ly asking for them to re­solve the dispute after a petition thumb­printed by more than 100 Ek­ka­­­pheap commune families was delivered to Phnom Penh, officials said.

On Wednesday, two more villagers summoned to Ratanakkiri provincial court refused to show up.

Provincial Court Deputy Director and Investigating Judge An Sam­nang said on Thursday that the visit to the village was not prompted by the National Assembly letter but by the villager’s failure to appear. He added that the two villagers were in­nocent of any wrongdoing.

“I do not want to arrest those innocent villagers,” An Samnang said. “I will visit the field to negotiate with them, because some of those families accepted money from the plaintiff but were then incited by bad people to demand their land back.”

Pen Bonnar, Ratanakkiri coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the two detained villagers had their request for bail denied.

Robert Oberndorf, community forestry international legal and policy adviser, said that the villagers have a strong legal claim to the land, because Khit Sok Khay has not fulfilled his legal obligations when granted the land as an agricultural land concession in the mid-1990s.

Khit Sok Khay was required un­der the old land laws to maintain pos­session of the land, or else it re­verted back to the state, and Ekka­pheap villagers have been occupying and farming the land for years, Obern­dorf noted. Khit Sok Khay could not be reach­ed on Sunday.

Provincial Governor Kham Kho­e­un on Thursday declined to specify who had sent the Assembly let­ter seek­­ing intervention in the dispute, but said he would try to re­solve the case peacefully.



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