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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ethnic villagers, firm battle over Ratanakkiri plot

Ethnic villagers, firm battle over Ratanakkiri plot

A local official and four ethnic minority Tompuon villagers appeared in a Ratanakkiri court on Friday to face accusations of land-grabbing and protesting against a private company that purchased their land in 2007, authorities said yesterday.

Rocham Pheun, an assistant to the chief of Keh Chung commune in Bakeo district, told the Post that the provincial court put out 15 warrants, summonsing himself and 14 other villagers to court after the company filed a complaint, though only four villagers appeared.

“The court questioned me for one and a half hours and accused me of leading a protest against the company. But I did not lead them. The land belongs to these villagers, so they protested to protect their land,” he said.

The company is listed in court documents as Ly Sokkim Co, Ltd, though a Ministry of Commerce database does not list any registered business under that name.

According to Pheun and local rights group Adhoc, 35 Tompuon families have lived on and cultivated the 105 hectares of land in the commune’s Par Or village since 1979.

In 2007, eight villagers sold the land to the company in a deal that was signed by local authorities, with the company subsequently banning all the families from planting and trying to force them out, they said.

Tensions escalated in March, when villagers stopped the company from constructing houses on the land, Pheun added.

Adhoc provincial co-ordinator Chhay Thy said the court had also released an order to destroy the villagers’ houses and that one man had been detained for six months in an apparent effort to intimidate the families.

“In order to take commission from the land selling, the authorities just signed the [land sale] document [in 2007] without examining the land, or even knowing who owned the land,” he said.

Rocham Lai, Keh Chung commune chief, acknowledged that authorities did sign the land sale but emphasised that the villagers possessed documents affirming their ownership at the time. “All the villagers claim the land is their own. But the ones who did not get the money . . . are protesting,” he said.

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