Ratanakkiri Villagers Vow To Re-Install Sign Calling for End To Land Dispute

Jarai ethnic minority villagers in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district said yesterday they planned to install a new billboard calling on the provincial court to resolve a long-running land dispute, after a billboard they erected Thursday was torn down by anonymous vandals.

Sav Taval, deputy chief of Kong Yu village, said the villagers had been angered by the removal of the sign, which was installed along National Road 78 at the turnoff to their village on Thursday and mysteriously removed that night. He said they were now determined to erect another billboard within two weeks.

“Villagers are not afraid, but we are really angry for losing the billboard because we collected the money for it,” he said, “We will make another billboard from wood to replace it. We will replace it next week.”

On Thursday morning, a group of villagers was briefly blocked by 15 police officers when they tried to install the sign, which asked the provincial court to expedite the villagers’ legal complaint against Keat Kolney, as there has been no progress in the case since December 2007.

Mr Taval, who represents 60 Jarai families who have been embroiled in a dispute with Ms Kolney, the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon, over 450 hectares of former village land, said the villagers had filed a complaint with local authorities over the board’s destruction.

“There has been no sign of the perpetrators yet,” he said, adding that police had visited Kong Yu village on Friday to talk with villagers about the incident.

Local police and officials could not be reached for comment on the case yesterday, but on Friday O’Yadaw district police said officers would carry out an investigation into the sign’s removal.

However, Chhay Thy, Ratanakkiri provincial investigator for local rights group Adhoc, was skeptical that police would pursue a serious investigation into the incident.

“Generally speaking, if the perpetrators were villagers police would take quick action. In contrast, if perpetrators are connected to powerful people, police rarely find the perpetrators,” he said, adding that the destruction of the billboard appeared to be an attempt to intimidate the villagers.

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