Villager Charged After Blocking Land Clearance in Ratanakkiri

A villager representative in Ratanakkiri province was charged Thursday with unlawful interference in the discharge of public function after he led a group of neighbors to block a Chinese company’s bulldozer from clearing disputed land in Bakeo district on Sunday, a court official said.

Morm Vanda, provincial deputy prosecutor, said the court had arrested and charged Khoem Sok on Wednesday evening and detained him at the provincial prison.

“After questioning him yesterday, we charged him with…unlawful interference in the discharge of public function,” the prosecutor said. Asked to elaborate on Mr. Sok’s alleged crime, Mr. Vanda said only: “This is an investigation for the court. We cannot tell you more about this.”

About 10 families in Bakeo district’s Kak commune have been locked in a dispute with the Chinese-owned Swift Rubber company for more than three years after the company was granted an economic land concession that overlapped with the villagers’ claims, according to Chhay Thy, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc.

On Sunday, Mr. Sok and about 20 others confronted a Swift Rubber bulldozer that had been sent to clear a portion of the disputed land, according to Sin Bun Then, a villager who was at the scene.

He said villagers had filed a formal complaint against Swift Rubber that saw no action from authorities. Before blocking the bulldozer, the group informed commune and police officials that Swift Rubber was unlawfully clearing their land, he added.

“When we filed a complaint against the company for clearing and grabbing our land, they did not take any action, but when we went to protect our land, they arrested us,” Mr. Bun Then said. “We have been living on and controlling this land for more than 10 years. Why can’t we live on our land?”

Last month, authorities bulldozed the homes of about 200 families living on the land concession in Ratanakkiri’s O’Chum district, northwest of Bakeo.

Swift Rubber representative Ngen Borin could not be reached for comment.

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