More than 100 family representatives yesterday filed complaints at Ratanakkiri Provincial Hall and the Interior Ministry, claiming that requests to be issued with identity cards so they could vote in upcoming elections were denied by local police officials.
The villagers who signed the letter, representing 112 families in Keh Chung commune, Bakeo district, thumbprinted and delivered the letter yesterday with the aid of local rights group Adhoc. The letter requests that authorities issue identity and voter cards, which would strengthen their claims to disputed land in the area.
The families also asked the authorities to officially recognise their family histories, which state that they have lived on the land for almost 10 years.
Nguon Mil, 65, one of the signatories, said that the community had asked officials to create the documents for them on several occasions, but their requests had been routinely declined because the police consider them to be illegal squatters.
“We, the villagers, have lived here since 2006, but until now we’ve not received any documentation. We do not have identity cards, voter cards or family records,” he said.
The families are at the centre of a land dispute over a 100-hectare area in the district rich in gems, with Interior Ministry immigration official Heng Socheat claiming he bought the land fair and square.
Socheat claimed in an October interview that the villagers had squatted on his land to steal his gems, while the villagers claim the official does not possess valid land titles and had posed as a military commander to purchase the property.
Earlier this month, three of the village representatives were detained in provincial prison for allegedly illegally occupying the land.
Mil said he suspected the authorities were withholding the community’s identity cards because they could help them seek land titles.
Mao Sun, Bakeo district police chief, said it was impossible for the authorities to create identity cards for them because they had no permanent address, birth records or family records.
“To make an identity card, you need birth and family records. If they don’t have them, they must request them from the authorities in the place where they were born,” he said.
“They live on other people’s land and have no fixed address. They just explore for gems from one place to another.”