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Bunong testimony sought in vandalism inquiry

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The disputed land in Dak Dam commune’s Po Chhop village of Mondulkiri province’s O’Raing district earlier this month. SUPPLIED

Bunong testimony sought in vandalism inquiry

The Mondulkiri Provincial Court Prosecutor’s Office has summoned 12 Bunong indigenous people to testify in a case of alleged violence and destruction of property, which took place on November 17 last year.

According to the summons – issued by deputy prosecutor Seav Ngy Chhean on April 28 – the 12 people in Dak Dam commune’s Po Chhop village of O’Raing district must each testify on different days between May 25 and June 1.

The summons states that they are summoned to clarify about the violence, encroachment, threats and vandalism in response to a complaint filed by a man identified as Nhong Chhay.

Kem Chanrath, a resident of the village, said on May 24 that he and other villagers had been summoned by the court, and would express their opinions that Chhay, the complainant, was the one who had encroached on more than 200ha of land that 102 families depended on.

He alleged that Chhay had erected posts to build a house so the villagers had protested and demanded him to clear out.

He claimed that the villagers did not abuse, shout, threaten to demolish houses or commit vandalism as alleged by Chhay. The villagers simply removed the fence post from the land because it belongs to the people and has been used for a long time, he added.

He accused Chhay of using the power of the judiciary to violate their civil rights and discourage protests over the disputed land.

“Chhay is violating the rights of the people by using the power of the judiciary to intimidate the people so that there will be no protests over the land they depend on,” he said.

Another resident, Mouls Tean – who was summoned by the court on May 24 – claimed that he was just a regular citizen who went to stop people from dismantling the posts on the disputed land, not a participant.

“I told them not to take them down, but to wait for the authorities. If they had given us permission to remove them, then we could do so. But people have accused me and the authorities of trying to steal people’s land and sell it. I won’t say anything else, I will wait for events to be clarified,” he said.

Chhay said on May 24 that more than a dozen villagers had committed vandalism on his property – which he claimed to have owned since 2007 – by demolishing houses, fences and using violence against his workers, to prevent him from developing the land.

“I bought the land from various villagers, some of them my relatives, in 2007. I have documentation and enough signatures to have it recognised by district authorities. Before filing the complaint, I asked the villagers to inspect the documentation, but they said they did not recognise it, prohibited me from developing my land, and destroyed my property,” he said.

Chhay said that he owned 126ha in Pou Chhop village.

District governor Seak Mony said on May 24 that he had called on both sides to attend mediation and resolve the issue peacefully, but that the protesters had not come forward to discuss it or presented their arguments to the authorities.

“In the past, I asked them to discuss the dispute with me, but they have not made an effort to join discussions, so I do not know how to solve the problem,” he said.

The governor said he had seen Chhay’s legal documents, but that recognising them was not in his mandate as they were signed by the previous governor.

Chek Sokhim, an official for rights group ADHOC in the province, said on May 24 that his organisation is investigating the case. He would meet with the people involved and attempt to obtain further information on May 25.

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