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March called off as governor listens

The march of a thousand villagers in Ratanakkiri province’s Lum­phat district, planned for yesterday, was cancelled after provincial authorities promised to help settle their long-running land dispute.

Adhoc coordinator in Ratanakkiri Pen Bunnar said the provincial governor had appealed to villagers in a meeting over the weekend, saying he had not been notified of their complaints.

“We were asked to submit them to [the governor] for resolution. We softened our hearts, we didn’t march and are waiting for help,” Pen Bunnar said.

Villagers contended DM Group had grabbed land in the Batang, Kaleng and Seda communes, which includes farmland and community forests, he said.

“The villagers have protested since the company demarcated the land and started clearing plantations,” Pen Bunnar  said, adding that 12 villagers had been charged in the dispute but continued to protest.

Soeurng Sarath, the villagers’ representative, said that in one case, about 130 hectares of farmland had been claimed by the company since 2005, and a representative of DM Group had shot him when he was tending his land in 2008.  

“Now we do not march. We will wait to see if the authorities will help us or not,” he said.

“I was shot in the leg; no one helped us seek justice.”

Ratanakkiri governor Pav Ham Phan said it was not only rights groups’ role to prevent the illegal clearing of land, but also the state’s.

“He [Pen Bunnar] cares [about the dispute], but we care more than him,” he said.

Villagers had sold land to DM Group, but when its value increased, they demanded more money, he said.

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