Four Tampuon ethnic minority villagers have been summoned to a Ratanakkiri Provincial Court hearing on March 22 to answer allegations that they grabbed land from a private company developing a rubber plantation in Bakeo district’s Keh Chung commune.
Judge Ek Polyphill said the four villagers, who will represent 14 defendants in the civil hearing, would be given a chance to show they owned the land being claimed by Ly Sokim Co Ltd. He said the villagers did not need to fear jail because it was a civil case.
Judge Polyphill also said Ly Sokim had lodged a complaint sometime last year in a bid to seek compensation from the villagers and to regain access to land they claimed to have bought from villagers.
Keh Chung commune chief Rocham Lai said yesterday that Ly Sokim had accused the 14 defendants from Pa’or village of grabbing more than 100 hectares of land that the company had bought from villagers in neighboring Leu Han village in 2007.
Mr Lai said the district governor had approved the sale of the land in 2007 but that Pa’or villagers had immediately cried foul, saying they too owned the land being sold. “It is a complicated case,” Mr Lai said.
Former Bakeo district governor Khum Sakhan, now chief of the district council, confirmed yesterday that he signed off on the land sale in 2007. “Of course, I did sign the land sale documents because my villagers sold the land to this company for a rubber plantation,” he said.
Han Ror, one of the defendants who will appear in court, said villagers were collecting thumbprints in a bid to lodge a counter action against the company. He said Pa’or villagers had owned the land since 1979. “We are not satisfied with this company, which is why we are going to countersue and seek compensation,” Mr Ror said, adding that villagers were seeking $15,000 in damages for the destruction of their cashew trees and other crops.
Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said he believed the 2007 land sale had been illegal. “Thousands of hectares of…indigenous communties’ land has been illegally sold to and cleared by private firms,” he said.