Villagers in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Chum district on Tuesday rejected the latest offer from a businessman who claims title to their land.
Businessman Khit Sok Khay visited the Ekkapheap commune site flanked by approximately 20 armed policemen, military police, court and land management officials and proposed that villagers could keep a little more than three hectares of the 200-plus hectares on which some 100 families have been living and working.
“Villagers rejected the offer of only two hectares of land for farming and more than one hectare of land for their graves despite threats that they would be detained in prison,” said Chuon Phindara, a Ratanakkiri activist from rights group Adhoc who attended the meeting.
“Khit Sok Khay, who claims he is the land title holder, ordered villagers to accept his offer or receive nothing,” he said.
Deputy provincial court director and investigating judge An Samnang confirmed that officials had visited the site and measured the disputed land.
An Samnang said that the armed forces were on hand to maintain security in case an argument erupted.
“We will hold more meetings with villagers and the land title holder, because some villagers’ demands are not acceptable,” he added.
O’Chum district Governor Bou Kim Moeur denied that authorities at any level had intimidated villagers but declined further comment.
Khit Sok Khay could not be reached Tuesday, and Ratanakkiri deputy provincial police chief Hor Ang declined comment.
Also on Tuesday, a two-day forum on land issues held in the provincial capital Banlung came to a close with a recommendation that there was a need in the province for collaboration between different levels of government, police and civil society and better implementation of land law.
Organizer Him Samith, project manager for NGO Development and Partnerships in Action, added that commune and district officials had agreed to cease issuing letters agreeing to the sale of land.
The forum, which was scheduled to coincide with Sunday’s Senate elections when many local officials had gathered in Banlung, drew more than 300 people, said Ratanakkiri Community Forestry International coordinator Graeme Brown.
But it was hampered by confusion following the replacement of provincial officials including former Governor Kham Khoeun.
“It was originally a forum designed at the request of the provincial government,” Brown said. “So the workshop wasn’t as strong and decisive as it could have been,” he said.