Local human rights group Adhoc called on the Ratanakkiri provincial government to disclose all documentation regarding the claims of a land development firm to 260 hectares of land in Batang commune that local minority villagers claim was taken away from them.
The disclosure request was sent to the provincial authorities and demanded that Say Chamroeun, a provincial government official who is also a senior representative for the DM Group, the firm at the center of the land dispute, reveal the company’s documentation proving ownership of the land.
According to Adhoc, Mr Chamroeun claimed in a newspaper article in April that his firm “had sufficient documents to prove legal ownership.”
“Officials at all levels are pretty clear who is the legal landowner, that is why they will always be on our side,” Mr Chamroeun claimed at the time.
Pen Bonnar, Adhoc’s provincial coordinator, said he sent the letter to the provincial cabinet as it was the responsibility of the authorities to ensure that the legal battle between DM Group and the villagers in Lumphat district be dealt with swiftly.
“We need him [Mr Chamroeun] and his company to show the legal paperwork to the villagers and the involved parties in order to let the ethnic minorities know whether to end their court case or to appeal,” Mr Bonnar said.
Provincial cabinet chief Nap Bun Heng responded on Thursday, saying that Mr Chamroeun’s job with DM Group was his own business and he could not be compelled, in his other job as a civil servant, to disclose the company’s documents regarding ownership in the five-year-old dispute.
Mr Bonnar said on Friday that the provincial office’s response was unacceptable as the Batang villagers were waiting “for authorities at all levels, as well as the court, to determine who is the legal land owner.”
“Such a response proves that the authorities are withdrawing themselves from this land dispute,” he added.
Contacted on Friday, Mr Chamroeun reiterated that his firm had full documentation proving ownership, but added that his firm did not want him to disclose the material. He also said that DM owns 285 hectares of land in Batang commune, not the originally claimed 260 hectares, and that every hectare will be cultivated by 2011.
Villagers in Batang claim the land belongs to them and that since early 2009 DM Group has completely prevented them from using the land, despite having filed lawsuits seeking legal redress at the provincial court since 2005.
The court has failed to make a ruling on the dispute, which local villagers claim is due to the influence of DM Group, which is said to be politically well connected.
While villagers have been prevented from using the disputed land, the firm has planted rubber trees on 100 hectares and 10 villagers have been charged in court on accusations of damaging property belonging to DM Group, said Lan Nin, 51, a representative of the villagers. Ms Nin said the charges against the villagers were a means of intimidating the community to drop their claim to the 260 hectares of land.
“As always, villagers are never treated very well by the leaders in the province,” she said of the latest development in the long-running land dispute.