The Pursat Provincial Court has issued a summons to a soldier based on the Thai border for allegedly clearing protected land in Veal Veng district, a move the man believes was orchestrated by a company owned by tycoon Try Pheap, which is embroiled in an ongoing land dispute with his and other families.
The soldier’s wife is known for leading protests by villagers against the company, and she has travelled to Phnom Penh to seek the direct intervention of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
MDS Import Export Co, owned by Pheap, was issued a 4,402-hectare concession to plant rubber trees in the area in 2010.
The concession overlaps with land plots that villagers have said were awarded to them by commune chiefs in 2000 and that were reportedly measured again before the recent election as part of the national land-titling project.
Tim Thoeun, the soldier summonsed, said authorities have stopped villagers from clearing or farming their land since 2010 on the pretext that it is part of a protected area.
“I don’t know which side has filed a complaint against me because the warrant did not specify, but I suspect [it was] oknha Try Pheap’s company … because they have banned people in the area from farming their land,” he said.
“It is very unfair for me, and I regret that I have been using my strength to protect the nation but have been served with a court warrant in return. I have never cleared or burned the forest as accused.”
According to an investigation by rights group Adhoc, 10 soldiers were sued in the same way by Environment Ministry officers in March.
Adhoc senior investigator Chan Soveth was also sued by a commune chief in April for allegedly inciting villagers to defy local authorities.
Thoeun, however, is the first to receive a court summons.
“Tim Thoeun’s case is because his wife is a representative of the people who are always out protesting to protect their land,” Adhoc’s Soveth said.
MDS could not be reached for comment.