Villagers Accuse Official of Threats in Dispute

Ratanakkiri province villagers and a human rights activist Mon­day accused a senior official at the National Authority for the Reso­lution of Land Dispute of pressing them to drop a lawsuit over a land dispute.

On Monday, villager representative Sun Vev, a Lumphat district police officer, said that at a meeting Thursday, NALDR Deputy Sec­retary-General In Viracheat had threatened him and three other Tampuon ethnic minority villagers with legal action if they did not withdraw their complaint.

In Viracheat and NALDR Secre­tary-General Svay Sitha could not be reached for comment Monday des­pite repeated attempts. However, district and commune officials dis­mis­­sed the allegations, saying no at­tempt at intimidation had been made.

More than 140 residents of two Batang commune villages in mid-2007 accused members of Prime Mi­n­ister Hun Sen’s bodyguard corps, later linked to the company DM Group, of clearing 200 hec­tares of their land.

Sun Vev said Monday that he had complained Friday of intimidation to the rights group Adhoc.

“I am also an indigenous villager, so I just need my land back,” he said.

At the meeting, he said, In Viracheat told Sun Vev and villager representative Phlang Mea that they, as well as Yang Than and Thoung Ty, who were not present, would face legal action for incitement if they did not drop the lawsuit.

“Though I am a police officer for Lumphat district, I am not using my position to incite villagers to stand up against the company,” Sun Vev said.

DM Group representative Kong Ngim could not be reached Mon­day. However, both District Go­vernor Ha Nen and commune chief Kith Chem dismissed Sun Vev’s accusations.

In Viracheat and local authorities had merely asked Sun Vev and Phlang Mea to thumbprint an agreement withdrawing their lawsuit, they said.

“The allegation is absolutely wrong because no one intimidated the villagers,” he said, adding that DM Group had purchased the 200 hectares in question in 2003 in order to plant rubber trees.

Adhoc provincial coordinator Pen Bonnar said Monday that under pressure, Phlang Mea had agreed to withdraw the lawsuit. Contact information for Phlang Mea was unavailable Monday.

“Ultimately, we learned that In Viracheat has only served his role and obligations in the wrong way,” said Pen Bonnar.

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