A representative for villagers living in Ratanakkiri’s O’Chum district who say that buyers from a local company failed to uphold a 2007 land deal has been charged and temporarily detained by local authorities for allegedly destroying private property.
Haing Noeur, 50, was detained on Saturday after plantation owner Ly Sok Ngim filed a lawsuit against him, alleging that Noeur burned timber destined to build huts on his land, said Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc.
“That land dispute involves 66 families and Ly Sok Ngim, but authorities did not intervene, and the workers keep clearing the forest on the disputed land. There is no other option but burning down the material to stop the clearing,” Thy said.
In March, an Adhoc investigation revealed that Seng Visith and his wife, Sek Sopheak Soeur Monea, who together owned a majority share of the now bankrupt VKM Company, promised to give villagers $20,000 and to build bridges, roads, schools and a village hall.
The investigation also revealed that former owners of the 400 hectares in dispute were in debt to Sok Ngim. A court ruling in February transferred five properties – including the 400 disputed hectares – to Sok Ngim.
Workers employed by Sok Ngim have been clearing the community forest unabated since early March, according to Chhay, claiming that the area had been awarded to Sok Ngim by Judge Luch Lao.
“Both sides in this case, the community villagers and Ly Sok Ngim, have filed lawsuits against each other over the illegal land grabbing but the court only takes action against the simple citizen,” Chhay continued, adding that efforts to provide legal aid to Noeur were under way.
District police chief Hak Lao confirmed yesterday that authorities arrested Noeur on Friday for allegedly burning 10 cubic metres of wood.
“He poured gasoline [on the wood] and burned it down and dismissed the workers. We arrested him based on the law,” Lao said.
Neither Judge Luch Lao nor Sok Ngim could not be reached for comment yesterday.