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Land battle headed to court

Eight ethnic Tampuon villagers from Ratanakkiri’s Bakeo district will file a lawsuit at provincial court today alleging that more than 70 hectares of protected forest have been illegally cleared by a police official and six villagers from a neighbouring commune.

Ting Kham Se, 52, of Laminh commune’s Suo village, is one of the eight that took an initial complaint to rights group Adhoc on Friday.

“They cleared our forest, and 30 of 70 hectares have been sold,” Se said. “We want our land back for our ethnic groups, and we want the suspects to be sentenced. We do not want monetary compensation.”

Se added that the village authorities have attempted to patrol the forest to shield it from illegal clearing or logging, but were unable to fully protect it. They did, however, report to the district governor their seizure of six chainsaws and several axes from the site.

“The people from another commune felled the trees to get the land. We tried to prevent and solve the problem, but we could not, and we do not know who is behind them,” said Pen Sophon, Laminh commune chief.

Adhoc investigator Mean Promony said that after the rights group received the complaint, they prepared a lawyer to help with the court process.

“Their authorities are not able to help them, so they asked us for help. We are sorry that the forest is being cleared. We will forward the complaint to court this Monday,” he said.

Bakeo district governor Heng Bunthan said a complaint had already been filed with the court, but he refused to comment further.

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