Three ethnic Phnong community representatives, accused of defaming the deputy provincial governor of Mondulkiri, said yesterday that they will use a court appearance tomorrow to press authorities on why they haven’t taken action on their own complaint accusing the same official of disrupting their livelihoods.
The representatives had filed their complaint against deputy governor Yim Lux in January of this year, saying he had taken away a key source of income by felling a significant portion of the resin trees on a concession awarded to him within a protected forest.
The villagers later found that he had subsequently filed a countersuit against them, accusing them of defamation. And while a summons to appear for questioning on December 5 had been issued in the defamation case, they said, there had been no movement at all on the initial complaint.
“We have filed the complaint against him over clearing the forest, because Prime Minister [Hun Sen] completely banned clearing dense forest for rubber trees, but he filed [a complaint] back for defamation instead,” said representative Bloeuk Mal. “What they’re doing is using the judicial system to pressure us for daring to speak the truth.”
Lux’s Villa Development was granted 728 hectares in the Phnom Prech wildlife sanctuary in Mondulkiri’s Pech Chreada district in 2011, according to an entry in the Royal Book.
Fellow representative Ki Ngev maintained that the situation also had an ethnic component.
“They look down on us as ethnic Phnong,” he said. “They do not take any action on our complaint. Our things have been logged and we filed a complaint with the court.”
Sok Ratha, a coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, which is helping the villagers with their suit, noted that the community is only seeking about $5 for each of the roughly 380 resin trees lost, and corroborated villagers’ characterisation of the lack of traction their own complaint had received.
“It is clear that the deputy governor is using the judicial system as a tool to pressure and dispirit anyone daring to exercise their rights to protect the forest, to make them scared stiff,” he said.
Lux declined to comment in detail, but brushed off the suit as a small issue.