Gov’t Refutes Court Order on Land Dispute With Locals

Ratanakkiri Provincial Court has ordered the province’s largest rubber company to temporarily stop operations until a decision is made on a complaint filed by local residents who claim that they own the land where the Tai Seng rubber company is operating.

But an official at the Ministry of Agriculture said that the order should not be carried out, as it would harm government revenues coming from the rubber sector.

“The injunction cannot be implemented because it’s on state land,” Ly Phalla, director-general of the Ministry of Agriculture’s rubber department, said yesterday. “To postpone harvesting means to postpone the government’s revenues.”

Worker collectives known as solidarity groups once used the 2,000 hectares of land where the company is operating. But in February 2009 the government dispelled solidarity groups, saying they exploited plantation workers, and gave the land to Tai Seng.

However, local residents Khaou Kimleng, Khaou Huor and Leang Vy claim to have legal titles for nearly 400 hectares of the company’s land after purchasing it in 2004 and 2005. They filed a complaint at the court in July over the disputed land.

According to a copy of the court’s injunction, Tai Seng’s owner Ly Hong Hsin “is prohibited to harvest rubber or to do other business activities on a portion of the rubber plantation totaling 378.5 hectares.”

Provincial court director Lou Sou Sambath said that recently appointed Judge Loch Lao had little knowledge of the dispute and, thus, the decision was made to issue the injunction on August 2.

“The injunction is made so that both parties in the conflict temporarily stop activities on the land,” he said, adding that he did not know what the legal consequences would be if the company chose to ignore the order.

He said that Judge Lao would make a decision on whether or not to cancel the junction at a later date.

Judge Lao could not be reached for comment.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that if the government ordered the company to go against the court’s injunction, it would be in contempt of the court.

“Even though they are not being forced legally or officially…the government must respect the will of the court,” he said.

The government’s Mr Palla said that he had already contacted Judge Lao and had given him the necessary documents proving that the land belongs to the state.

Kea Eav, defense lawyer for the three plaintiffs, said that his clients also had the legal documentation proving ownership of the land.

“By law the courts order must be carried out,” he said. “My client’s land has been violently grabbed by the company.”

Mr Hsin, Tai Seng’s owner, said yesterday that he would continue work on his plantations.

“I cannot postpone and I will continue harvesting the rubber because I just invest on state land,” he said.

            (Additional reporting by Simon Marks)


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