An ethnic minority villager in Ratanakkiri province is in jail after being arrested and charged with illegally selling Banlung district land that the provincial CPP office claims to own, court officials and rights workers said Wednesday.
Touch Chhunly, 45, was arrested Friday at provincial police headquarters after he was invited for questioning, and is being held at the provincial prison, said Norng Sok, deputy director of the Ratanakkiri court.
“The suspect sold 25 square meters of the CPP’s 23,478.2 square meters to another person, which is why he was arrested and detained in prison for a future trial,” the deputy director said, adding that the CPP office had held the title to the land since 1993.
Both local rights group Adhoc and the NGO Legal Aid of Cambodia said the arrest was unacceptable because the legal battle over the land was still working its way through the courts and because 27 ethnic minority families say they have owned the land since the 1980s.
Touch Chhunly had represented the ethnic minority families involved in the 7-year-old dispute in Laban Siek commune’s Pram village.
“The arrest of my client is absolutely wrong because we don’t yet clearly understand who the real landowners are because the villagers are still struggling at the Appeals Court,” said LAC attorney Ny Chandy, who represents Touch Chhunly.
On May 19, villagers appealed an April 20 decision by the provincial court, which ruled in favor of the CPP, Ny Chandy said.
Norng Sok said the arrest was legitimate as the CPP clearly owns the land.
CPP provincial office deputy chief Sok Ham said the minority families had moved on to the land in the 1990s, after the 1993 title was issued.
The land will be used to construct a CPP meeting hall, he added.
“Those villagers are the land grabbers,” Sok Ham said.
Adhoc provincial coordinator Pen Bonnar noted that Prime Minister Hun Sen in December warned officials to stop land grabbing, “otherwise a farmer revolution can happen.”
Hun Sen’s order has not been obeyed, he said.