Ethnic Tampuon representatives from Ratanakkiri’s Borkeo district have called for assistance from rights group Adhoc following alleged death threats made by their commune chief, who they accuse of selling off communal land for personal gain.
Four representatives of a group of 50 families in Kleu village, Seung commune, filed a lawsuit Thursday against the commune chief, Ro Mam Tham. The villagers claim he then threatened to kill them.
Adhoc first took the plaintiffs’ case to court in March, claiming that Mam Tham sold a 52-by-72-metre plot of communal land in Kleu to a Mr Meng for $10,000. Two weeks ago, the court dismissed the case.
One of the plaintiffs, Ting Keo, 30, said yesterday that Mam Tham had grown angry when he learned the protesters were appealing the court’s decision.
“As soon as he found out that we filed the lawsuit against him [with Adhoc], the commune chief got furious and loudly threatened to kill us and said he will pester us, too,” Ting Keo told the Post yesterday.
Chhay Thy, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for Adhoc, said that he would investigate the case and a new lawsuit would be filed to the court next week on the villagers’ behalf.
“The commune chief knows the law and he should face the villagers in court, not threaten the villagers like that,” Chhay Thy said.
Mam Tham denied that he had threatened the villagers. Instead, he claimed that the villagers demanded he hand over the disputed land to them, adding that they even went so far as to threaten him and the local police chief.
“The reason the court dismissed the case was because I have made no mistakes. I sold the land for only $7,000 and the money was spent to renovate the fences, commune hall and toilets,” he said.
According to Adhoc, the villagers transferred 1.5 hectares of land in Kleu to Mam Tham to be used for the construction of a commune hall, but the commune chief subsequently sold part of the land to a private party.