Ratanakkiri province – Less than 24 hours after installation, a billboard erected by Jarai ethnic minority villagers in O’Yadaw district to call on the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court to resolve a long-running land dispute, was torn down by anonymous vandals, local villagers said yesterday.
Villagers from Kong Yu village, which is embroiled in a land dispute with Keat Kolney the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon over 450 hectares of former village land, installed a roughly 0.7-by-1 meter sign along National Road 78, after briefly being blocked by police Thursday morning.
On Friday morning, villagers found the billboard had already been destroyed.
“The board was torn down during midnight. It remained only the frame and poles,” said Romam Hill, representative of the 60 Jarai families, adding that at around 6 am Friday villagers found the board was gone.
“Now, villagers are angry about missing their billboard, which villagers collected money for,” he said. “We will have a meeting to discuss whether to collect money for building a new one or not.”
According to Mr Hill, the billboard cost about $50 and villagers pooled their own money to buy it in Banlung town. Mr Hill said villagers would inform police and ask for an investigation in order to arrest the perpetrators.
O’Yadaw district police chief Ma Vichet said yesterday that he heard the board was gone.
“I also heard about it and I have ordered my subordinates to investigate it. We are conducting the investigating now in order to arrest perpetrators to the court,” said Mr Vichet, adding that police have no suspects.
The villagers’ defense lawyer Yin Savat from the Community Legal Education Center, said those who opposed the villagers’ actions to fight for their land were behind the vandalism.
“We assumed that only people unsympathetic to the villagers’ actions destroyed the board,” he said. The sign asked the court to expedite the villagers’ legal complaint against Ms Kolney faster, because the villagers have been waiting since December 2007 for a judge to investigate their case and start a trial.
Mr Savat noted that the billboard was the villagers’ property and those who destroyed it should face charges under the Criminal Code for destruction of private property.
“It is an action against the Criminal Code and abuses the private property of the villagers,” he said.