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Fines called for in case against Khmer Krom

An ongoing land dispute may become more than just an embittered ordeal for three Khmer Krom villagers after officials requested yesterday that a Takeo court levy them huge fines.

According to representatives from Borei Choslar district’s Sangkum Meanchey village, they are only farming barren land that under squatters’ rights should legally be theirs. But local fisheries officials want the 68 families gone from property that a 2008 law designated as a protected wildlife area.

Vy Chan, 56, Vy May, 40, and Sun Rum, 31, were all summonsed to the court yesterday, despite their pleas to delay the trial until they could secure legal representation.

“The plaintiff demand 30 million riel [$7,416] from each of us for destroying the state’s rainforest. What a big amount. How can we have that kind of money? We are so poor,” Chan said.

The three villagers were charged in April with illegally occupying the sanctuary. They told the Post that they were coerced under fear of arrest or retaliation to thumbprint a statement saying they would stop farming the disputed area. Despite the statement, none of the 68 villagers gave up what they claim is their only livelihood.

“They asked why we continue to stay here even though they warned us to leave. It’s because we have nowhere else to go,” Chan said.

Last month, the villagers sent a letter to the provincial governor requesting a social land concession provide them with just enough land to feed their families. Yesterday, Governor Lay Vannak said he had no information about the request and that the fisheries administration was responsible for the case.

Soa Kosal, deputy director of the provincial fisheries department, said the villagers have ruined 50 of the sanctuary’s 8,000 hectares.

“They destroyed state rainforest in an area the government had selected for conservation,” Kosal said.

He added that he did not know where the villagers could go if evicted, because officials are still working on the case.

The trial is set to continue on July 8.

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