P Vihear Villagers Summoned Over Destruction of Sugarcane

Three Kuoy minority representatives and an NGO staffer have been summoned by Preah Vihear Provincial Court over the destruction of sugarcane on a Chinese company’s plantation last month.

The group from Tbeng Meanchey district’s Brameru commune was asked to appear for questioning next Friday, according to Soeng Sam, a minority representative who received a summons.

“I think that the court wants to question us because they want to threaten and intimidate us so that we won’t protest against the company,” said Ms. Sam.

“In fact, we went and took sugarcane because Roy Feng Company farmed the sugarcane on our land and the authorities did not solve it for us,” she said.

Ethnic Kuoy villagers maintain that Roy Feng and another Chinese company, Lan Feng, seized and illegally cleared 5,000 hectares of their communal farmland. Protests have occurred sporadically over the past half year, and the government has responded variously with detentions and threats.

In January, activist monk But Buntenh and four other monks and NGO staffers were detained by military police after joining a protest over the alleged land grab. In April, Preah Vihear provincial governor Oum Mara sent a letter to the Interior Ministry requesting to shut down an NGO aiding the villagers.

Ang Cheatlom, executive director of that NGO—Ponlok Khmer Organization—defended the actions of his staffer, Lut Sang, who was among those summoned by the court.

“My staff did not lead the villagers to destroy the sugarcane plantation, but just went to monitor,” said Mr. Cheatlom.

In April, villagers destroyed about 36 tons of sugarcane on three hectares, Mr. Mara said at the time.

The summoned representatives don’t deny that villagers destroyed the crop, but maintain it was being grown on land that is legally theirs.

“I think that we are innocent because the company grew sugarcane on our land. The company destroyed our ancient forests,” said Nuon Mon, who was also summoned, along with Kuoy representative Roeung Khann.

Mr. Cheatlom of Ponlok Khmer Organization said he had little doubt the court order was intended as intimidation.

“I know that in most land dispute cases, the authorities always use the court system to intimidate the people so they won’t protest against the company,” he said.

Deputy provincial prosecutor Long Sitha declined to respond to the allegations, saying the summonses were simply due process.

“We just want the villagers to clarify whether they committed the act as the company accuses,” he said.

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