Ethnic minority villagers in Ratanakkiri province have accused local authorities of threatening to jail them if they protest land-clearing activities that have destroyed more than 10 hectares of their cultivated crop fields in O’Chum district.
“[Land title holder Khit Sok Khay] started clearing our crops on Monday and we dared not stop them,” villager Duong Sacha said on Tuesday. “Vice commune chief Chek Uok went door to door to threaten us with jail if we dared to stop tractors from destroying the plants.”
Duong Sacha said villagers appealed to local rights group Adhoc to intervene and reported that more than 10 local police officers and military police have been deployed to the disputed area.
Phou Kim Moeur, O’Chum district governor, denied that there was any intimidation against the villagers and said that police officers have been sent to the area to maintain security.
“The local authority is not threatening villagers. We always support villagers, but we never support land grabbers to grab other people’s land,” he said.
“Khit Sok Khay has the legal land title which is why the court allows him to continue to clear the crops planted on his land,” Phou Kim Moeur said.
Pen Bonnar, Adhoc coordinator, said that he called to Ratanakkiri Provincial Court Director Ya Narin seeking intervention in the dispute because the law states that villagers can protest even if another party has a court-issued title.
“Villagers should be provided the chance to protest because we’re not clearly aware yet about who is the real landowner,” Pen Bonnar said.
Ya Narin said that he did not know all the details of the case but asserted that the land certificate was issued legally. Contact details for Khit Sok Khay were unavailable.