The Ratanakkiri Provincial Court has issued letters to 11 ethnic Tampuon villagers from the province’s Lumphat district, instructing them to prepare for a hearing over
accusations of using violence on the property of rubber company DM Group.
The letters – dated February 26 this year but received by villagers only this week – were meant to tell the villagers that “the time for questions and investigations were over and to prepare themselves for the hearing”, said investigating judge Loch Lao, who did not mention when the hearing would be held.
Tven Vev, a 40-year-old villager from the Batang commune, received one of the issued letters a few days ago.
“The letters say we are being accused of using violence on [DM Group’s] properties. But I have done nothing wrong,” said Vev. “This is a form of intimidation to threaten us so we would not demand our land back.”
DM Group first began setting up rubber plantations in the district in 2005 and have been steadily acquiring land in three communes occupied by indigenous Tampuon
For five years now, villagers have been protesting the concessions, saying the company wrangled over 300 hectares of land from them with unfair compensation.
In January, two Adhoc activists and a radio reporter accused of inciting these villagers to violence in 2009 had their charges dropped after prosecutors found there was a lack of evidence.
Chhay Thy, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, agreed the case was being used to scare the villagers into submission.
“The court does not have anything to pin on the villagers besides a few photos of felled rubber trees,” added Thy.
Thy went on to challenge the court: “If the court has any evidence it should go ahead and sentence them.”