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Four villagers called to court over land dispute

District authorities meet with villagers in late February in Preah Vihear after villagers seized four tractors from a contractor that had been hired by Heng Yu, a subsidiary of Rui Feng, which has had several standoffs with villagers over the clearing of forestland. Supplied
District authorities meet with villagers in late February in Preah Vihear after villagers seized four tractors from a contractor that had been hired by Heng Yu, a subsidiary of Rui Feng, which has had several standoffs with villagers over the clearing of forestland. Supplied

Four villagers called to court over land dispute

A complaint filed at the Preah Vihear Provincial Court accuses four Kuoy ethnic villagers of goading some 70 others into confiscating tractors being used to clear community land by a subsidiary of the Chinese sugar company Rui Feng, which has been involved in a series of standoffs over use of forestland.

Soksan Dara, Chebb district governor, said Heng Yu, a subsidiary of Rui Feng, hired a Kampong Thom province contractor to clear the land. The contractor filed the lawsuit following the villagers’ refusal to return the four tractors and bulldozers.

“The owner of the machinery sued them in court,” he said. “It is a criminal case . . . We, the authorities, tried to coordinate [the return of machinery], but they refused to return the machinery, [and] placed it in the forest. We just want to put it at the commune hall.”

About 70 villagers protested on February 25 in an effort to stop the four tractors from clearing the forestland. They then seized the tractors and drove them to the end of the village and removed the keys and batteries.

Villagers claimed that M’lou Prey II Commune Chief Kan Sovankea visited them on Tuesday and Wednesday and ordered them to return the keys and batteries or they would face arrest.

One villager, 38, who asked not to be named out of fear of reprisals, said Sovankea identified the four villagers who were sued earlier this month as Than Thany, Rim Thoeuy, Kham Sopheak and Chea Eng.

“The commune chief told me that they will issue an arrest warrant for us by accusing us of inciting villagers to seize the tractors and bulldozers and destroy them,” the villager said.

A court summons, obtained by The Post on Wednesday and dated March 21, orders Thoeuy to appear in court by April 4 for questioning related to “incitement to commit a crime, extortion and intentionally destroying” machinery.
Phy Sithorng, the deputy prosecutor who signed the summons, couldn’t be reached.

Sovankea confirmed having met with villagers and asking them to return the machinery, but said they refused.

The previously unnamed villager denied that machinery had been destroyed. He said they seized it to keep workers out of community forestland.

“The machinery destroyed our land, but authorities never think about how that affects us,” he said.

Dara claimed he and provincial authorities had visited villagers at least three times to solve the land dispute, but villagers have not cooperated.

Poek Sophon, chief of advocacy for local NGO Ponlok Khmer, said the lawsuit against the four villagers was “repression”.

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