A Change of Guard

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Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Mondulkiri ‘squatter’ leader fronts court

People camp under makeshift shelters on an economic land concession in Mondulkiri on Monday. Photo supplied
People camp under makeshift shelters on an economic land concession in Mondulkiri on Monday. Photo supplied

Wed, 13 July 2016 ppp
Phak Seangly

A Mondulkiri woman is due in court today to face allegations she led more than 200 villagers in squatting on an economic land concession (ELC) in Koh Nhek district.

Rith Vanny, 43, was arrested on Monday morning as authorities showed up to evict 231 people she allegedly persuaded to set up temporary homes on one of three adjacent ELCs spanning 28,000 hectares and belonging to Vietnamese rubber consortium Pacific Peal Joint-Stock Company.

“We detained her for inciting villagers to grab the company’s land and interfering with the lawful work of the company,” deputy provincial police chief Sou Sovan said.

He continued that Vanny and her husband, who he said are originally from Kampong Cham’s Stung Trang district, had erected a makeshift home by the side of National Route 78A in order to sell food and groceries to workers constructing the road.

There had been an agreement with the pair that they would vacate the site at the company’s request, which they refused to honour when it came time for them to leave, instead encouraging others to construct 18 tent-style shelters, Sovan said.

The company had evicted Vanny and the other squatters several times before taking legal action, he added.

“This was the fourth time that she led villagers to grab the company’s land, claiming it was her own and that she had lived there for a long time, although this was not the case,” Sovan said, adding that the majority of squatters left after authorities explained the situation to them and promised they could apply for a social land concession if they truly had no land on which to live or farm.

Chen Pisith, 55, one of the alleged squatters, yesterday insisted that approximately 150 had, in fact, lived in the portion of Rakyor commune now occupied by the ELC until 2011, when authorities began chasing them out and razing their homes.

“Her arrest is not right, because we lived here before the company arrived,” Pisith said. “When the company came the authorities would not recognise our claim.”

However, local authorities have previously said that the evictions Pisith referenced were against persons living illegally on state and company-owned land.

Company representatives could not be reached.

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