Takeo Provincial Court yesterday handed out suspended sentences of three years in prison and 1 million riel ($250) fines to four Khmer Krom men charged with occupying and clearing state land and destroying a protected area in Kampong Krasaing commune.
According to the Minority Rights Organization (MIRO), the men have lived and farmed the land since 2004, and the verdict is aimed at expelling them while also deterring other poor villagers from cultivating state land.
Un Thanann, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said Vy Chan, 55; Vy May, 45; San Roum, 34; and Sao Moeun, 40, received guilty verdicts in front of more than 70 Khmer Krom families who had gathered at the court to hear the verdict.
“I have been found guilty, but I am happy that I at least do not have to go to prison,” Vy Chan said.
MIRO said the Khmer Krom community of 74 families has been asking for more land from the state since the 1990s to no avail.
In 2004, they occupied 215 hectares of state land, but in 2007, the authorities stated the area would be declared a protected wildlife sanctuary.
Villagers claim that the Fisheries Administration ordered the destruction of 91 houses in the area last year.
“I admitted that I occupied land that is now a sanctuary, but what about the Fisheries Administration that has destroyed the villagers’ houses? Who will take responsibility for us?” Chan said.
Sao Kosal, deputy director of the provincial fisheries department, denied that the Fisheries Administration had anything to do with the destroyed houses.
He added that the authorities had called for a stiffer penalty for the four men.
“We asked for them to be jailed and fined 30 million [riel, almost $7,500] because they destroyed a significant amount of state rainforest,”
“But it’s the court’s decision,” he added.
Provincial Governor Lay Vannak said yesterday that he is working on a social land concession request from the community.