Two men of the ethnic Tampuon minority appeared at Ratanakkiri Provincial Court yesterday for questioning over their 2008 land dispute complaint against a local businessman. But the hearing was delayed because the men were without a lawyer, a court official and one of the men said.
Deputy Prosecutor Morm Vanda said the hearing had been rescheduled to June 30 after a request by the two men, Yang Thang and Sven Vev, who said they had no lawyer.
“It’s not required for the pair to be accompanied by a lawyer when they are questioned by the court,” said Mr Vanda. “But we need to follow their suggestion.”
Mr Vev said he thought he had been summoned yesterday over a complaint lodged against him by the land concession firm DM Group, which villagers have accused of seizing 260 hectares of their land. He and Mr Thang were jailed for about half a year beginning in 2008 over their dispute with the firm.
“When we received the summons, we thought we might be summoned over the DM Group case, in which we are accused of trespassing and destroying the firm’s rubber trees,” he said.
Yesterday’s hearing concerned a complaint Mr Vev and Mr Thang filed in 2008 against local businessman Ta Les after he allegedly seized about 100 hectares of their indigenous forestland to clear for his own use.
“We are poor, which is why the court is taking slow measures for our case,” Mr Vev said. “When we lodged the complaint, the forest was slightly cleared. Now more than 200 hectares of forest have been cleared in 2009.”
Mr Les could not be reached for comment yesterday.
But Kith Chem, chief of Batang commune in Lumphat district, claimed he had never seen any deforestation in his jurisdiction.
“This group [of villagers] is just exaggerating the facts to defame local authorities,” Mr Kith Chem maintained, before declining to comment further.
Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for the human rights group Adhoc, also said that cases involving deforestation are dealt with slowly at the provincial court.
The court’s inaction had led to almost all forests being cleared through land encroachment and illegal logging, he said.
Mr Vanda, the deputy prosecutor, said that the slow pace was due to the high volume of complaints lodged at the court, which previously had only one prosecutor.