A GROUP of 72 ethnic Jarai families in Ratanakkiri province are preparing to file a new complaint against a company they have accused of illegally clearing 15 hectares of community farmland, a rights worker said Monday, three days after five representatives withdrew similar complaints.
Chhay Thy, an investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said the earlier complaints – which were filed at the provincial court on May 26 – had been withdrawn out of fear that the representatives would be arrested.
Late last month, he said, the company offered to pay the families US$3,000 if the representatives withdrew their complaints, and told the representatives that they would be arrested if the payment was not accepted.
“They told the villagers that if they did not accept the bribe, they would use the money to bribe prosecutors to issue arrest warrants for the representatives. But the villagers still rejected the bribe,” he said.
The new complaint, he said, would be filed by members of all 72 families.
“They plan to file a new complaint backed by all 72 families, so that if the authorities want to arrest someone they must arrest all the villagers, not just the representatives,” he said.
One of the representatives, Rmass Moeun, said the villagers had been gathering thumbprints for the new complaint since Sunday.
“We were afraid that they would arrest us so we decided to withdraw our original complaint, but we still did not accept the $3,000 bribe,” he said. “We still want our slash-and-burn farmland back.”
The families – who live in Saom Trork Chas village, located in O’Yadav district’s Saom Thom commune – have accused residents of nearby Pork Par village of illegally selling 20 to 30 hectares of their land to the Hou Ly Company, which has plans to develop a rubber plantation on the site.
Residents and rights workers have said that the company has cleared 15 hectares of the disputed land since May 14.
Dork Sar, the governor of O’Yadav district, said last month that the Pork Par villagers had the right to sell the land because they had been farming it for over 10 years.
Hou Ly, the president of Hou Ly Company, denied that any arrest threats had been made, but acknowledged that he had offered the villagers a $3,000 payment.
He added, though, that the payment “was not a bribe”.
“The village representatives withdrew their lawsuit and confessed that they had been confused,” he said.
“They need money, but I have not given it to them yet because while these villagers have agreed to withdraw their complaint, others continue to oppose me.”
Prak Soeurn, the chief clerk at the provincial court, said the five representatives had withdrawn their complaints voluntarily.
Hou Ly said he was hopeful that the dispute would be resolved amicably, but added that he was not afraid of a legal fight.
“I still want to negotiate with them, but if the case goes to court, the court will find justice for me,” he said.