Ethnic Minority Villagers Accuse Court of Bias

Ethnic minority villagers in Rat­an­akkiri province accused the prov­ince’s court on Monday of bias in its handling of a land dispute case between 110 Tampuon families and a land concession owner.

Representatives of the O’Chum district villagers said they would seek legal assistance from local rights group Adhoc to fight an order signed on Friday by Invest­igating Judge An Samnang and Prosecutor Mey Sokhan, allowing the land title-holder, Khit Sok Khay, to clear their land.

“We will file other complaints to the director of the court against that order, which is biased,” Chan Koeur, a representative for the villagers, said by telephone.

Chan Koeur accused the court of favoring rich landowners over im­poverished minority villagers.

The court order states that Khit Sok Khay can “start the process of clearing crops on the land belonging to him legally,” and orders the ar­rest of anyone who stands in his way. “In the case that someone disobeys the order or interrupts the process of clearing, authorities in the area must arrest them and take them to court for legal action,” the document states.

Khit Sok Khay could not be reached for comment Monday.

Villagers and local rights workers claimed that Khit Sok Khay was granted a 60-hectare land concession in Ekkapheap commune in 1996 by local officials.

The concession holder did nothing to develop the land until No­vem­ber 2004 when he arrived with tractors and cleared cashew and rice crops planted by the villagers and who had lived on the land since 1979. The villagers have since protested the loss of their land and an at­tempt to force them to accept paltry compensation to relinquish their claims to the disputed area.

O’Chum district Governor Pho Kim Moeur said authorities legally sold the land concession to Khit Sok Khay. “The villagers are the land grabbers, so their crops should be cleared,” he added.

 

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