R’kiri Land Rights, Deforestation March Planned

A major public protest over illegal logging, deforestation and rampant illegal land sales in Ratanakkiri province is planned for October, local human rights group Adhoc said August 29

A similar protest in December 2007 and attended by over 1,000 people was broken up by police using water cannons despite Adhoc’s claim that it had received official permission to hold the peaceful demonstration.

Ratanakkiri provincial Governor Muong Poy said August 29 that Adhoc would need to secure permission from the Interior Ministry to have the protest, and that it was not in his power to grant it.

The plan to march in October reflects a growing frustration in the province among the worst affected by land disputes and illegal deforestation, Adhoc provincial coordinator Pen Bonnar said.

More than 10 land disputes between ethnic minority villagers and high-ranking officials and business people are currently before the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court, and don’t appear to nearing a resolution any time soon, Pen Bonnar said.

The cases include a dispute over 300 hectares of land between a group of Jarai minority villagers and RCAF General Kao Try in O’Yadaw district. Another involves a dispute between a group of Jarai villagers and Keat Kolney, the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon, in Pate commune over 450 hectares of land.

Pen Bonnar said the court is slow to act when cases involve powerful people. “In particular, the conflicts involve senior officials and rich people…this is why the court has taken so long to move forward,” he said.

Provincial Chief Prosecutor Mey Sokhan confirmed Friday that several land dispute cases have been filed, but he said they were being dealt with at a normal pace by the court. “For each case we need time to conduct an investigation,” he said. “We’ve never ignored [these cases].”

Pen Bonnar said Adhoc has also compiled evidence of 50 more cases of illegal land and forest sales where the residents of whole villages and communes thumbprinted land-exchange documents, while local officials were paid a commission.

“In the documents we have collected… the sales were made using two strategies: “Villagers thumb­printed for a little cash…while commune or district chiefs got commission from the sale,” he said.

Kith Chem, the chief of Patang commune in Lumphat district, said by telephone on Friday that 200 hectares of disputed land in his area, which is being fought over by the DM Group company and local villager, had not involved any commission.

“Only a few bad people in this area want the land back that they already sold to the company,” Kith Chem said.

“Local authorities clearly understand the law and we have never colluded with business people or used tricks to force people to sell the forest,” he added.



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