A man as summoned to appear at the Ratanakkiri provincial court in February for questioning over forest clearing charges, said a court order signed by a provincial investigating judge dated January 10.
The court order, obtained by The Post on Tuesday, said that Kham Nin, 39, an ethnic Tampuon, currently possesses 39ha of land, located in Seda commune’s Keng San village, in Lumphat district.
He was charged in September last year for crimes as stated in the Law on Natural Protection Area and was summoned to appear in court on February 12.
However, Nin denied all charges, claiming that they were an act of revenge by Keng San village chief Nhor Angkuot after Nin filed a defamation lawsuit against him in 2017 for colluding to sell state land and allowing Vietnamese nationals to cut down trees in the protected area.
Nin said that early in 2014, the village chief borrowed 20 million riel ($4990) from him to build a village hall and promised to pay him back after authorities had allotted the national budget for the village.
However, having no money to reimburse him, Angkuot issued a letter granting a plot of land in exchange for paying his debt.
“In the end, he issued a letter, allowing me to possess a plot of land. Now, he filed a lawsuit claiming I cleared the [forest] land,” he said.
Nin said he would obey the summons and appear in court. Angkuot and Seda commune chief Ang Bunthieng declined to comment on the issue.
In October 2017, Angkuot, Bunthieng and eight other provincial officials were sued by Nin, other community members and Pen Bunna, the senior land and natural resources investigator for rights group Adhoc.
The lawsuit claimed they colluded to sell state land and allowed traders to deforest the land between 2014 and 2017.
The lawsuit also claims that they had allowed Vietnamese nationals to cut down luxurious timber wood in Keng San village and transport it to Vietnam at a rate of about 20 trucks per day between March and April in 2017.
Bunna said the court should look at the defamation lawsuits, which claimed that the provincial authority ignored the loss of hundreds of hectares of forest land.
“It is very unfair to accuse Nin of illegal forest land clearing. We also need the authorities to take legal actions against those who cut down hundreds of thousands of hectares of forestland and converted it into personal property without following proper procedures."
“This is a crime. If they punish Nin, the court should punish others who have illegally cleared hundreds of hectares of the forest,” Bunna said.
Ratanakkiri provincial court spokesman Keo Pisoth told The Post on Tuesday he was not sure about the issue and could not comment.