R’kiri Authorities Grant Judge Grazing Plot Near Land Dispute

A Ratanakkiri provincial judge investigating criminal charges against 10 Tampuon ethnic minority villagers over a land dispute in Lumphat district held a blessing ceremony Sunday for a nearby 70-hectare plot allegedly donated to him by the community. A village resident, however, said the community did no such thing.

Batang commune chief Kith Chem said the commune approved the transfer of the land-slated to become grazing land for Deputy Provincial Court Director Thor Saran’s herd of cows-at the request of Batang village residents.

“The local indigenous community granted him the land for a livestock feeding projects. It is neither a gift nor a land sale,” he said. According to Mr Chem, the villagers donated the land hoping that it would aid in the area’s economic development.

“It’s a good project to alleviate poverty among indigenous families here,” said district council director Ha Nen, who also confirmed the district’s approval of the land transfer.

Tun Sona, however, a Batang village resident and community representative, denied the claim.

“Because it is our spirit forest, how could we agree?” she said yesterday. “Local authorities just arbitrarily gave the land to this judge.”

Charges were laid against the 10 villagers in 2008 when private developer DM Group accused them of trespassing on their rubber plantation and destroying company property. The villagers have been battling the firm in court since 2007 for allegedly clearing 200 hectares of their land.

In August 2009, local authorities said they had offered Judge Saran the 70 hectares in exchange for dropping the charges. Mr Chem and Mr Nen yesterday denied this.

Contacted yesterday, Judge Saran said the charges against the 10 villagers were still active and that the 70 hectares blessed over the weekend had nothing to do with the dispute.

“This has nothing to do with the court case because it is a private development project, nothing to do with the charged villagers over the land dispute,” he said.

The judge said he planned to use the land to graze approximately 100 cows and to hire local villagers to tend them.

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