FOUR ethnic Tumpoun villagers facing charges related to an ongoing land dispute with a rubber company in Ratanakkiri province have agreed to appear in court on Thursday after learning that the rights group Adhoc had arranged for their legal representation, their lawyer said on Wednesday.
The development follows the return to the province of Pen Bonnar, an Adhoc activist embroiled in the same dispute, on January 1. Adhoc last year temporarily moved the activist to Phnom Penh after he was charged with incitement for refusing to appear in court in July in connection with his support of the Tumpoun villagers.
Long Lon, the lawyer provided by Adhoc for the defendants, said his four clients were charged with trespassing on a rubber plantation owned by the DM Group, whose claim to the Patang commune property has been challenged by villagers there since 2007.
“I will be on hand to ensure that the judge does not arrest them,” he said.
Sven Vev, Yang Than, Pich Ponlok and Tol Oeur refused to appear in court on January 6 when they were unable to obtain legal representation.
Sven Vev said that, with the support of a lawyer, he could confidently state his case in court. “They accused us of violating their property, but 260 hectares of their claim is in fact our farmland,” he said.
Pen Bonnar, who has not yet been summoned to court, said he “did not trust” investigating judge Thor Saron to give justice to the villagers, accusing him of bias in favour of the company. Thor Saron could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.