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Locals seeking justice after ‘broken deal’

Locals seeking justice after ‘broken deal’

Villagers in Ratanakkiri’s O’Chum district are demanding their land back, claiming buyers from a local company failed to uphold a 2007 deal.

The 66 ethnic Kreung families filed a complaint on Friday after workers from a nearby rubber plantation started to slash and burn the 400 hectares of disputed land.

According to the complaint, villagers had farmed the land since 1979. But in 2007, Seng Visith and his wife, Sek Sopheak Soeur Monea, who together owned a majority share of the now bankrupt VKM Company, promised them $20,000 and to build bridges, roads, schools and a village hall.

“Seng Viseth and his wife produced a fake document with our thumb prints in order to grab our land and transfer [it] to another person, Ly Sok Ngim,” the complaint says.

Chhay Thy, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said he investigated the claim, and on Sunday found that Seng Visith and his wife were in debt to plantation owner Ly Sok Ngim. A court ruling just over two weeks ago transferred five properties – including the 400 disputed hectares – to Sok Ngim.

“The villagers knew nothing about this case … [and] have not received any money,” Chhay Thy said.

Adhoc is preparing to file for an appeal of the court’s verdict.

Sak Sun, O’Chum district governor, said that authorities had already visited the village and determined that the Kreung families sold off the land in 2007. “It is an old case,” he said.

Seng Visith, his wife and Ly Sok Ngim could not be reached for comment.

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