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Bunong, Bollore land dispute overruled by French tribunal

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Bunong ethnic community members from Mondulkiri province hold a press conference over their land dispute with a French firm, at Meta House in Phnom Penh in February 2019. Heng Chivoan

Bunong, Bollore land dispute overruled by French tribunal

A joint statement issued by 97 Bunong indigenous families in Mondulkiri province expressed disappointment in the Tribunal of Nanterre in France which overruled their complaints concerning 2,386ha of disputed land with French company Bollore.

The families from Pech Chreada district’s Bou Sra commune said they would grant lawyers the right to file an appeal in France.

“Once again, we are frustrated with this ruling. We were ordered to pay €20,000 [$23,600] in compensation [to Bollore] while we lost land, access to the forest and traditional livelihoods. We were also subject to a court case in Cambodia.

“We have filed complaints to authorities at all levels and still there is no solution. So, we took the case to the tribunal in France hoping that Bollore would be held responsible for paying damages under the firm Socfin-KCD in France,” the statement said.

Kroeung Tola, a representative of the indigenous families, told The Post on July 14 that Bollore, a subsidiary of French firm Socfin-KCD, had planted rubber trees on the disputed Bunong land in 2008.

The indigenous community, he said, have lodged complaints to local authorities at village and provincial levels as well as to the national court, but to no avail.

The decision to take the matter before the French tribunal was based on the belief that France respected the rule of law more than Cambodia, Tola said. However, in the hope of achieving justice, none was found, he claimed.

“We have protested many times and the people have sold a lot of livestock in an effort to achieve justice. Finally, they were fed up with protesting and eventually filed the complaint to the French tribunal against the company for violating the rights of indigenous people. But, now the tribunal violates our rights,” he said.

According to Tola, the complaint was divided into two cases by a French court judge. In the first, the tribunal repudiated the case, saying the people in the commune were migrants and not indigenous people although they had certified letters from Cambodian authorities.

In the second case, the judge ruled that the plaintiffs had filed the evidence late and the tribunal ordered them to pay the company €20,000.

However, Tola said the families would take the case to the French Appeal Court.

Mondulkiri Provincial Administration spokesman Neang Vannak said the information he had on case was that villagers claimed the Bunong people had cleared the land and the bottom of streams and canals for cultivation. In fact, the land belongs to the state.

He added that the French tribunal’s ruling was just and the Cambodian courts had also made similar rulings.

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