Five local representatives from Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat district were questioned in court on Friday, following accusations from a Vietnamese company of unlawful land-grabbing, according to NGO Adhoc and community representatives.
The complaint, filed in late April, states that 300 residents of Thmey village, in Chey Udom commune, built a fence around 200 hectares of land, which had been granted to the Hoang Anh Lumphat Company for a palm oil plantation.
However, Roeun Say, 33, one of the villagers questioned as an “initiator” of the dispute, claims the community needs the plot as a safe refuge during rainy season floods.
“The people want that land for the mutual benefit [of the entire community] to save the lives of people and animals,” he stressed.
He said the community asked the company not to clear the land but their request was not heeded.
Provincial Adhoc coordinator Chhay Thy said the villagers had taken the “right action” in building the fence and were protected by government policy.
“We are very worried the court system [will] undermine the people and threaten the weak . . . with the aim of giving the land back [to the company],” he said.
Meanwhile, former Lumphat district governor Kong Srun said the land is not a “safe hill”, and the community had already been granted a “sufficient” 727 hectares. He added that he was under the impression the matter had already been settled out of court between the company and the villagers, with an agreement that the land would be equally divided.