Inquiry Begun in Jarai Utility Pole Complaint

A Ratanakkiri province prosecutor yesterday led more than 20 O’Yadaw district police to investigate allegations that workers from the power utility Electricite du Cambodge had cut down hundreds of cashew trees to build utility poles on land belonging to indigenous Jarai families.

Provincial prosecutor Mam Vanda said that he had found evidence that the trees had been cut down but that it was still to early to say whether EdC had acted wrongly.

“I was at the site to investigate and I found that the cashew trees were cut down,” he said, adding that the investigation was held in order to “accumulate evidence.”

He referred all other questions to district police chief Ma Vichet.

The court case dates from Nov 18, when Chhay Thy, an ethnic Jarai investigator for the human rights group Adhoc, and his wife, Sev Khem, filed a complaint alleging that EdC had felled trees along a 70-km stretch beside National Road 78 in order to install electricity pylons.

Mr Vichet said police would release findings today on how many trees had been destroyed on both sides of National Road 78 where EdC utility poles now stand.

“Other minority people who have had a number of their cashew trees cut down by EdC for the installment of electricity poles did not complain because they understood that the poles have been built for public interests,” he said.

“If I were him, I would not have filed a complaint for compensation,” he said of Mr Thy, the plaintiff.

EdC representatives could not be reached but Mr Vichet said that company staff had verbally informed families of the construction project before it took place.

Mr Thy said that while he praised the court for carrying out an investigation, the only reason more families had not filed complaints was because they were scared of the consequences of defying the national electricity supplier.

“Other affected families dared not complain because they do not want any trouble,” he said.

He added that the utility poles installed by EdC fell in the middle of the villagers’ cashew tree plantations and skirted the edge of contested land where Jarai villagers in O’Yadaw’s Pate commune are in a in a six-year dispute with Keat Kolney, the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon, who has begun a rubber plantation in the area.

 

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