Ethnic Jarai villagers from Ratanakkiri province yesterday asked the provincial court to set a hearing in an ongoing land dispute case, at the screening of a film they produced about the dispute at the Community Legal Education Centre.
The 31-minute film, produced by Kong Yu villagers and facilitated by independent foreign filmmaker Daniel Lanctot, showed the traditional lives of the villagers and their dependence on the land.
Kong Yu villagers lost 450 hectares of their land in O’Yadav district’s Pate commune in August 2004, when they say they were tricked by commune authorities into selling the land to businesswoman Keat Kolney, the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon.
Kong Yu residents say they signed documents approving the sale of 50 hectares of land after commune authorities told them it was needed for disabled army veterans.
Villager Roman Nann, also the filmmaker, said at the screening that the main purpose of the film was to “allow a younger generation to know about their plight of losing land and to ask for immediate intervention”.
Kong Yu villagers filed complaints to the provincial court in 2007, requesting the termination of the sale and a halt to the clearing of the land.
Sev Twel, a representative of the villagers, said that the court had taken no action and 280 hectares of land had been cleared to plant rubber trees.
He added that the film was there to teach children and communities not to be cheated by land dealers or authorities.
Filmmaker Daniel Lanctot said that 500 copies of the film had been distributed to other communities and NGO partners.
“[The villagers] wanted to show how they were tricked into losing their land, how they were cheated and they don’t want other communities to be cheated or have problems,” said Daniel Lanctot.Yin Savath, a lawyer defending the villagers, said that the judge assigned to the case had changed several times since the complaint was filed in 2007, and warned Provincial Court Director Lou Sou Sambath that he would file a complaint against him to the Supreme Council of Magistracy.
“Later this month, we will go to Ratanakkiri to ask [Lou Sou Sambath] to hasten the court procedure or we will file a complaint against him,” said Yin Savath. “He did not fulfill his duty as the judge, so he delayed the procedure.”
Lou Sou Sambath could not be reached for comment, but has previously told CLEC lawyers that none of the judges wanted the case because it was “complicated”.