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Ratanakkiri dispute case drags on

Ratanakkiri dispute case drags on

A village chief and an ethnic minority Tompuon villager were the latest people brought before the Ratanakkiri court for questioning after a private company accused villagers of destroying its property.

Kvas Cheav, 57, village chief of Par Or in Keh Chung commune, told the Post that he and villager Rochom Preang were questioned in provincial court yesterday about the alleged March protest against Ly Sokkim Co, Ltd, which bought the land in 2007.

“We went to court, though we were afraid we may be detained,” Cheav said after he was questioned yesterday. “I told the truth, and I did nothing wrong.”

The land dispute dates back to the company’s purchase of 22 hectares of land from eight villagers, who prosecutor Ros Saram said owned and cleared the land. But more than 30 other families claim they also legally live on the land.

Some villagers assert that they also helped clear the land but weren’t paid. Others who live and farm on the land have said they will be forced from their homes if the company develops. In March, company officials came into the village with construction materials, intending to build houses on land where villagers live. But they allegedly protested the construction and kicked workers out of the area.

Last month, another local official and four other villagers appeared in court for questioning about the incident. The court plans to bring in 20 more people for questioning, including three next Monday.

“When they saw me at the protest, they accused me of being an initiator,” Chaev said. “I do not have land there, but I just went there to see my people because I am an authority.”

Chaev added that the company did not notify any local authorities before attempting to build on the land.

The recent questioning is just the latest example of villagers facing court for their dissent of the land deal, said Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc.

“The court has been used as a tool for intimidate the villagers, so that they do not protest.”

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