R’kiri Villagers Accuse Official Of Land Grab

Ratanakkiri province villagers have accused a senior RCAF official of deploying soldiers to land they say is theirs to prevent them from harvesting their crops, an Adhoc official said Monday.

Villagers have appealed to Adhoc to intervene in the case, involving Brigadier General Nuon Phea, dep­uty chief of the Ministry of De­fen­se’s border protection department, said Adhoc Provincial Co­ordinator Pen Bonnar.

“It is not fair if those villagers are threatened or prevented from en­tering their farms because those people have collected cashew nuts for several years and their families’ economies depend on those crops,” he said.

Phen San, a villager claiming to represent 95 affected families, said Nuon Phea has deployed dozens of soldiers and private workers to disputed land in two communes in Lumphat and Kon Mon districts.

In Lumphat’s Lbaing I commune, soldiers have threatened 27 families with fines of $2.50 for each cashew nut they harvest on 120 hectares of disputed land, he said.

“I have no idea how many and how long soldiers have been de­ployed at our farmland, but when our villagers went into our farm to col­lect cashew nuts and rice, those soldiers threatened to fine us if we collected even one cashew nut,” he said.

Nuon Phea could not be contacted, but co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh said he did not believe the allegations.

“I think [Nuon Phea] dares not grab villagers’ land. It is a complex matter. We need to find out the ac­tual case and find evidence of intimidation,” he said.

Pen Bonnar claimed that in May 2004, Nuon Phea forced the families to accept $110 each for abandoning their land.

“Some villagers accepted compensation with teary eyes because they felt scared of RCAF soldiers,” Pen Bonnar said, adding that many villagers still recognize the land as theirs.

Nuon Phea has previously been involved in land disputes in Bokeo district, where villagers claimed in 2001 that they were duped into signing away 1,250 hectares to the general in return for bags of salt, gifts and a small amount of money.



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