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Ethnic Jarai villagers defend claim at court

Ethnic Jarai villagers defend claim at court

ratanakkiri
Ethnic Jarai villagers leave Ratanakkiri provincial court after appearing before the judge to clarify their complaint against the Chea Chanrith company, which they accuse of clearing community land. Photograph supplied

Jarai ethnic minority villagers appeared at Ratanakkiri provincial court yesterday, demanding compensation from a Vietnamese company they say illegally cleared 30 hectares of community land in November last year.

The villagers filed the complaint in December, accusing the Chea Chanrith company of bulldozing their protected jungle in Lumchor commune of O’Yadav district.

“I emphasised [in court] that our community demands $10,000 in compensation to recoup the loss,” said community leader Sorl Noe, who was asked to appear in court to confirm the filing of their complaint.

Chea Chanrith was granted a licence from the Ministry of Agriculture last year to clear land in Bakeo and O’Yadav districts to plant rubber trees.

But Chhay Thi, provincial co-ordinator for rights group Adhoc, said they had cleared protected land and urged the court to take legal action as an example to other companies that are granted economic land concessions.

“This clearance is contrary to the deal as the company has no right to clear ethical community forest,” he said.

The Jarai villagers protested once the clearing started, saying they depended on the forest for firewood, income and shelter.

In December, the community, company, local authorities and the forestry administration met to discuss the issue, with the community demanding the area be re-planted.

In response to the allegations, Chan Mab, a translator from Chea Chanrith, said the company had cleared the land in accordance with a map acknowledged by the forestry administration and other authorities.

“We cleared with our map. Sometimes villagers think the forest is their own, but actually it is granted to a company,” he said, adding that compensation will depend on negotiations between the community and the company supervised by authorities.

Chea Chanrith was granted 659 hectares of land to plant rubber trees and some 600 hectares have already been cleared and planted.

The Jarai community forest had been recognised since 2010 by provincial authorities, which had maps clearly delineating their claim of 481 hectares.

If their case is successful, the compensation would be used to buy animals for a traditional ceremony for the forest spirits and to build a community hall, Sorl Noe said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Phak Seangly at [email protected]

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