Minority villagers protest in R’kiri dispute

Members of the Tumpoun and Jarai ethnic minorities protested yesterday in Ratanakkiri province against the court-ordered measurement of disputed land in Bakeo district, villagers and officials said.

Ratanakkiri Provincial Court Judge Chay Mealea said she headed up yesterday’s measurement of 100 hectares of disputed land in Ting Chak commune, part of the court’s investigation of a complaint filed on Dec 9 accusing the villagers of illegally seizing property.

“I can’t reveal the identities of the complainants because that would break the code of ethics for judges,” she said. “I can say that those complainants have sufficient paperwork to prove their legal ownership of the disputed land.”

Some 85 families farm the contested land, according to Panal village chief Romam Hey, a member of the Tumpoun minority.

“Plenty of villagers had gone to their other farmland, which is why we could not stop them from measuring the land,” Mr Hey said. “We will never let them to occupy my villagers’ farmland.”

Villagers claimed yesterday that Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema asked to use the disputed 100 hectares in 1997, when he was provincial governor.

“Kep Chuktema asked for the land from the 85 families for development, and he promised to return it after three years if there was no development on the land,” said Soeur Bunthoeurn, a member of the Jarai ethnic minority. “But now the court said the land is being claimed by another party.”

Reached yesterday, Mr Chuktema said he had merely helped to develop the land at the request of villagers, and that his relatives became owners of the land.

“It’s not my land,” he said. “The problem with indigenous villagers has been solved a long time ago, especially my relatives started development there soon after they got the land. My relatives have legal documents to show their ownership.”

He added that he is not familiar with the details of the current court case and does not know if his relatives still own the land.


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