Villagers Allege Intimidation Used in R’kiri Land Dispute

Jarai ethnic minority villagers in Ratanakkiri province claimed this week to have been victims of intimidation as a result of their land dispute with a high-ranking military official.

Puoy Yong, a representative of the villagers in Pate and Lumchor communes in the province’s O’Yadaw district, said this week that they have received several visits since December from RCAF soldiers and other men claiming to be government officials who have told them to withdraw the court complaint related to their land dispute.

In August 2007, more than 180 Jarai families in the two communes lodged a complaint accusing RCAF Major-General Kao Try and three others of grabbing 350 hectares of land that the villagers claimed they had been living on since 1979.

“The complaint was made by all villagers, and we will continue to struggle through the court system until we get the land back,” villager representative Sul Lin, 30, said by telephone.

Ratanakkiri acting Provincial Governor Chay Sayoeun claimed Wednesday that he too had come under pressure, but added that the documents that lay claim to the Jarai villagers’ land are not valid.

“All the local authorities who put their signatures on the documents reported to me that they signed to prove that [Kao Try and the others] were borrowing the land only,” Chay Sayoeun said by telephone.

Kao Try, who has lodged a coun­ter-suit against the villagers and local officials, could not be reached for comment this week, but his lawyer Heng Sotheara said that the land title documents were valid and that the land be­longs to his client.

“My client has all the documents and land titles to show that he has a legal right to the land,” Heng Sotheara said.

Ratanakkiri Provincial Court Director Ya Narin said the investigation is ongoing.

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