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This timeline shows the bureaucratic hurdles Indigenous communities face when trying to seek land tenure in Cambodia. Image by Gerald Flynn/Mongabay.

Kampong Thom Provincial Court Sentences 2 Indigenous Kui to One Year in Prison

Following a land dispute, the Kampong Thom Provincial Court has given two indigenous Kui a one-year sentence in prison for their alleged involvement in a land dispute with a rubber plantation development company. The charges against them include “violence against real estate owners.

Heng Saphen, a representative of the Kui indigenous people, expressed her dissatisfaction with the court’s decision, claiming that she was not involved in the alleged violence and that the company had even withdrawn their complaint.

“I find it unjust for both myself and my daughter, as I believe I am not at fault, yet the company has chosen to retract their complaint,” she expressed. According to her, the land issue has been a long-standing problem ever since the company began encroaching on community land.

This has led to ongoing disputes between the company and community members. She said that on the day of the incident [May 18, 2022], a group of villagers plowed the disputed land—which was in a condition of disrepair—with a tractor in order to grow crops, but the authorities arrived to put an end to it.

Ms. Saphen asserts that indigenous people are currently using the disputed land for farming and other activities like cassava planting. According to her, the potential loss of land could lead to significant challenges to indigenous livelihoods.

“The livelihood of Indigenous peoples is intricately tied to the land,” she emphasized. “Their way of life revolves around the land, as it provides for their needs and sustains their communities.”

kui women
Photo by Gerald Flynn/Mongabay

Expressing her discontent with the ruling from the Kampong Thom Provincial Court, Ms. Saphen stated her intention to consult with her lawyer regarding the possibility of appealing the verdict to the Court of Appeal.

Lut Sang, the lawyer representing the two Kui indigenous people, asserted that his clients were indicted by the judge without concrete evidence of their alleged crime. According to Sang, “the judge’s allegations in this hearing appear to be procedurally biased and in favor of the company,” Sang stated.

According to his statement, the evidence presented by the plaintiffs during the previous hearing did not align with the actual location of the disputed land, which was found to be over two kilometers away. He claimed that after measuring the area where the incident occurred, the local authorities discovered that the locals owned more than one hectare of land. This was not the same as the plaintiff’s claim that the villagers had encroached on 21 hectares.

Heng Saphen and Chan Lay Hak, the accused, had already refuted claims that they had used violence against property owners, saying that they had just been farming on communal land.

Heng Saphen, a representative of the Kui ethnic group, was initially remanded in custody on June 14, 2022, as stated in a company complaint. However, he was later released on bail on June 30.

A conflict over land ownership between over 100 indigenous families and a rubber company first arose over ten years ago, following the company’s acquisition of state investment rights.

Based on the government’s location map from 2011, SAMBATH PLANTINUM Co., LTD, a company specializing in agriculture, industry, and rubber plantation, has been granted government investment rights for a vast area of 2,496 hectares in the Boeung Per Wildlife Sanctuary.

A group of 104 indigenous Kuay families residing near the investment site is urging the authorities to clearly mark the boundaries between the company’s land and the land owned collectively by the community. They claim that the company cleared many hectares of the villagers’ crops and installed encroachment poles on community land.

This timeline shows the bureaucratic hurdles Indigenous communities face when trying to seek land tenure in Cambodia. Image by Gerald Flynn/Mongabay.

In 2021, affected people sought the assistance of the Kampong Thom provincial authorities and the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. The Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction of Kampong Thom Province recently took action in response to a request. On 13 August 2021, they issued a letter to Sambath Platinum and Tepi Agro, instructing them to cease erecting boundary posts and clearing crops, and the posts must be removed.

The department also emphasized the need for compensation to be provided to the affected people for the crops that were destroyed by the company.

A land dispute has reached a critical point in Ngon village, Ngon commune, Sandan district, Kampong Thom province. On June 29, 2022, 104 indigenous families submitted a petition to the provincial authorities, urgently requesting intervention to halt the company’s land clearance activities.

These families have been embroiled in a dispute for over a decade and are seeking a clear demarcation between their land and the company’s. According to a petition for assistance from the Kampong Thom provincial administration, the indigenous Kui people are facing the loss of land that they used to occupy and enjoy in the traditional manner and that has been jointly controlled from 1979 to the present.

Source Camboja News

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