Villagers Say They Were Forced To Accept Deal

Ethnic minority villagers in Rat­anakkiri province have accused the holder of a contested land concession of destroying their crops and then forcing them to accept paltry compensation for their loss, a hu­man rights official said Tuesday.

The complaint by 110 affected families in O’Chum district’s Ekkap­heap commune was sent to local rights group Adhoc and will be sent to the provincial court this week, the organization’s provincial coordinator Pen Bonnar said.

“Those villagers were forced to thumbprint and have their photo­graphs taken verifying their acceptance of compensation. But they accepted with tears in their eyes,” Pen Bonnar said by telephone.

“The presence of the deputy pro­vincial governor, district governor and police officials put pressure on villagers to accept the compensation,” Pen Bonnar said, adding that the villagers were only given $25 to $50 compensation for their des­troyed cashew and other crops that had earned them several hundred dollars a year for a number of years.

According to Pen Bonnar, Khit Sok Phay was granted a 60-hectare land concession in Ekkapheap commune in 1996 by provincial and district land management officials on condition that he develop the area within three years.

No work was conducted on the land until November when Khit Sok Phay arrived with tractors and cleared the villagers’ land of cashew, rice and other crops which had been planted in the intervening nine years, Pen Bonnar said.

“[Khit Sok Phay] did nothing re­garding the development of the zone, so it is not fair for those villagers who had their crops and cashew destroyed,” he said.

Khit Sok Phay could not be reach­ed for comment.

O’Chum district Governor Phou Kim Moeur denied that villagers were coerced into accepting the compensation, and claimed they were happy with the outcome.

Phou Kim Moeur said that Khit Sok Phay had legal rights to the land as he purchased it from provincial authorities, and accused the villa­gers of “land grabbing.” “Au­thor­ities at all levels have tried their best to reach a compromise be­tween the landlord and land grabbers,” he said.             Pen Bonnar said he had been summoned to court to answer allegations by Khit Sok Phay that he provided false information in a radio interview about the villagers’ dispute.

“I have enough documents to prove my claims, because he really used tractors to demolish the villagers’ plants,” Pen Bonnar said.


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