Four ethnic Kuoy villagers appeared in Preah Vihear provincial court on Wednesday for allegedly seizing two bulldozers from a Chinese-owned company in a December 2014 dispute that saw a group of locals attempt to prevent the firm from clearing their rice fields.
The four were identified as Pho Phet, Norm Thol, Phon Rum and Pav Sev.
A Tuesday court summons issued by Preah Vihear provincial court’s Investigating Judge Chean Sros ordered eight people to appear over three days for questioning over a charge of “illegal confinement and detention”.
An employee at the Ponlok Khmer NGO suspected of being an accomplice in the incident in Brame commune’s Bos Thom village in Tbeng Meanchey district was also called.
Among the nine, four were called to appear on Wednesday and three on Thursday, while the remaining two were summoned for Friday.
Lut Sang, a representative for the indigenous group, told The Post on Wednesday that some 60 villagers from Tbeng Meanchey district’s Brame commune would go to the court to show their support for those summoned.
He said in December 2014 hundreds of Brame commune families showed up to prevent the alleged encroachment on their fields by Chinese state-owned company Hengfu Group Sugar Industry.
Equipment was seized and held at Brame Commune Hall. Sang said the equipment was not damaged and the company had taken it back in 2016.
“I think [the court summons] is unfair for the indigenous minority group and the NGO employee who tried to protect their land. In return, they were sued by the company for confiscating the company’s bulldozers on their own land."
“The community had filed a complaint against the company for illegal land clearing, but the court never took action. But when the company or authorities filed a lawsuit against the people of the community, the court’s actions were very swift.”
Roeung Khan, deputy chief of the Brame commune indigenous community, asked the provincial court to drop the charges against the nine.
“The land was taken and the people [who owned the land] were charged. It is not fair at all,” she said.
Provincial court spokeswoman Chum Kaniya declined to comment, saying she did not have enough information on the matter.
Sang added that after the government’s 2011 decision to grant an economic land concession of more than 40,000ha – mostly private farmland located in Chheb, Chey Sen and Tbeng Meanchey districts – to the Hengfu Group Sugar Industry for a sugarcane plantation, the company tried to clear the villagers’ rice fields.
This triggered some 500 families from the Brame commune indigenous community into protesting.
Sang claimed Preah Vihear provincial authorities did not sufficiently study the application before approving the land concession.
Tbeng Meanchey district governor Kong Sophorn said on Wednesday that he could not respond to villagers’ questions.
“Since being appointed Tbeng Meanchey district governor just over a year ago, I have nearly finished resolving land disputes with the Chinese company,” Sophorn said.