R’kiri Court To Question Ten Villagers In Land Dispute With DM Group

Ratanakkiri Provincial Court has summoned ten ethnic minority Tampuon villagers involvd in a land dispute in Lumphat district with the company DM Group for questioning this week, court officials said yesterday.

Judge Loch Lao said he summoned six of the villagers to appear today, Wednesday and Thursday for questioning on allegations they had attacked police during in a brawl in November, in which 20 police officers clashed with 40 Tampuon villagers, who attempted to free two detained village representatives.

“The summons have been made in order to get information from alleged perpetrators and other suspected accomplices,” Judge Lao said. He added the summoning had been scheduled for July but had been postponed to early September so that the six suspects, ranging in age from 20 to 45 years, could find a lawyer.

DM Group has been involved in a dispute since 2005 with 50 Tampuon families over about 260 hectares of land in Batang commune.

Pich Ponlok, a villager who was summoned by Judge Lao, said he had heard about the summons through the human rights group Adhoc and that he would appear at the court to prove his innocence.

“I was not one of the protesters, I was at my farmland that day,” he said. “I will be at the courthouse because my defense lawyer has confirmed his participation.”

Judge Thor Saran said he had summoned four more villagers to appear at court for questioning Friday to determine if the four had violated their bail conditions.

The four men, Sven Vev, Yang Thang, Nit Than and Shay Khamnear, have already spent half a year in provisional detention and conditionally released in July 2009. The four were detained on charges of trespassing and property destruction for removing rubber trees planted by DM Group on the disputed land.

Judge Saran said during the summoning the four would have “a chance to provide evidence before court to show they have done nothing wrong.”

On Aug 26, Judge Saran said the men had “caused insecurity” because they had collected thumbprints from villagers without informing authorities.

The villagers have said they gathered thumbprints for their 2005 and 2009 lawsuits against DM Group Company, which they accuse of grabbing their communal farmland.

Villager Sven Vev said he would appear in court Friday and added he thought he not violated the conditions of his bail because collecting thumbprints “is not a crime or offense.”

Pen Bonnar, Adhoc rights worker in Ratanakkiri province, said the summoning of the villagers was “absolutely an injustice,” adding the allegations against the men on bail were groundless, as there was nothing illegal about gathering thumbprints.

He said the four had suffered enough, as they “were already placed in jail for a long time” on charges for which there had been no evidence.

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