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Indigenous villagers put under court supervision

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A view of Mondulkiri province’s Sen Monorom town. Hong Menea

Indigenous villagers put under court supervision

The Mondulkiri Provincial Court has charged three members of an indigenous community in Laoka village of Sen Monorom town’s Sokdum commune with aggravated intentional damage and violence against a real estate agent and ordered them to appear at the court once a month.

The decision came after the court summoned Phlek Phirum, 40, Phlek Navy, 37, and Khveng Tum, 47, to testify on March 9 in connection with the incident that happened in October last year.

During court proceedings on March 10, more than 20 villagers gathered in front of the court, expressing concern that authorities would detain their representatives.

The court’s ruling signed by Investigating Judge Pok Sin Vanda on March 10 said the investigation would continue and prevent the accused from escaping or engaging in any other activities that could affect the investigation. Therefore, the court would place the accused on bail under court supervision.

“The accused must not leave their homes without permission. They must respond to any summons by those appointed by the judge and must appear at court once a month. The court or the judge may decide to detain the accused temporarily,” it said.

Phlek Phirum, one of the accused, told The Post that the court’s decision was “extremely unfair”. In October 2020, she and more than 70 other residents went to protect the fence surrounding community land. More than 7ha of state land and mountains have been encroached upon and occupied by a group of individuals claiming to have legal rights to the land. But in reality, indigenous people have depended on the land for many years.

“What we protect every day is not just to protect our own property, but protecting state land, especially in this area. My people in the village have been relying on this land for a long time. Instead, the court accuses us. The court should take action against those corrupt individuals,” she said.

Meas Pros, head of administration at the court, said placing the accused under court supervision was at the judge’s discretion.

“That the decision is biased and abusing the people is their accusation,” he said.

Kreung Tola, an adviser to indigenous communities in Mondulkiri, said while he acknowledged that dismantling fences was illegal, the authorities should have educated people first.

He said they only acted to protect community land on which they depend.

“The land was originally a cattle ranch for the people in Laoka village. But we do not know who sold the land. Importantly, the judiciary should change the way it works, and not just to protect the rich and powerful. I want to ask the court to reconsider this case,” he said.

The Post was unable to contact the plaintiffs as the court’s ruling and arrest warrant did not identify them.

But according to the people’s representatives, the occupants of the more than 7ha of land who have sued them are Pet Sophanna and Pet Somana.

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