Jarai community representatives in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district lodged a complaint yesterday claiming a local businessman had threatened them with legal action after they refused to take his cash to drop a court complaint accusing him of land grabbing.
Community representative Romas Moeurn said yesterday the complaint against businessman Nou Ly, who claims to be a senior member of the ruling CPP’s provincial branch, was lodged with local rights group Adhoc and relayed to the court on Monday.
According to Mr Moeurn, Mr Ly visited Som Trak Chas village over the weekend and offered $3,000 for the community to withdraw a court complaint accusing him of land grabbing. Mr Ly also warned he would pursue defamation charges against those who complained about his land deal and push for them to be imprisoned by the court, Mr Moeurn said.
“I’m not scared of the intimidation as I just demand the protection of our farmland,” Mr Moeurn said.
According to Mr Moeurn, six community leaders representing 89 families in the village signed a complaint lodged with the provincial court last week that accuses Mr Ly of illegally clearing 46 hectares of cashew fields and rice paddy belonging to the Jarai community of Som Trak Chas village.
Contacted yesterday, Mr Ly said that he was the rightful owner of the disputed land, which was among 80 hectares he purchased from ethnic minority villagers in neighboring Pok Por village with the consent of local officials.
“So there is no reason for me to threaten them,” Mr Ly said, confirming that he had offered the protesting villagers in Som Trak Chas the $3,000 in order to help them with their legal fees in prosecuting their case of land grabbing against him.
Mr Ly, who was questioned in court Thursday over the complaint of land grabbing, said he was given time by the court to offer the villagers an “out of court settlement.”
“Those six people who complained are gangsters who never listen to their elderly village leaders,” he added.
“If they want their land back, they must repay me for the money I spent on plowing the land as well as the total amount of money I spent on the land.”
Mr Moeurn, one of the six complainants against Mr Ly, said yesterday that this was not the businessman’s first run-in over minority land. In 2008, residents of Som Trak Chas village lodged a complaint against Mr Ly after he allegedly grabbed 200 hectares of land.
Som Tuon, chief of Som Thom commune where both Som Trak Chas and Pok Por villagers are located, confirmed yesterday that Mr Ly had bought the land from villagers, though he did not know which village they were from.
“It’s just confusion…. Now we are calling them to a meeting to end the matter,” he said.