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Preah Vihear villagers facing court complaint over machinery seizure

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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. Photo supplied

Preah Vihear villagers facing court complaint over machinery seizure

A complaint filed at the Preah Vihear Provincial Court accuses four ethnic Kuoy 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, governor of Chheb district, said Heng Yu, a subsidiary of Rui Feng, hired a Kampong Thom contractor to clear the land. The contractor filed the court complaint 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 disagreed 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 on Tuesday claimed that M’lou Prey II Commune Chief Kan Sovankea paid them a visit on Tuesday and Wednesday and ordered them to return the keys and batteries or they would face arrest.

A 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. “He threatened to handcuff us if we do not return the machinery.”

Rui Feng, along with four of its subsidiaries, was granted 40,000 hectares of land in the area in 2010 for a sugarcane plantation.

A court summons, obtained on Wednesday and dated March 21, calls Thoeuy to appear in court by April 4 for questioning related to “incitement to commit a crime, extortion and intentionally destroying” machinery.

Updates to follow.

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