Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Preah Vihear Provincial Court Summons Four Indigenous People for Illegally Occupying State Land

Preah Vihear provincial court in 2020. (Supplied)
Preah Vihear provincial court in 2020. (Supplied)

Four indigenous Kuy residents of M’lou Prey II commune, Chheb district, have been summoned by the Preah Vihear provincial court for questioning on the obstruction of the company’s development, and inciting people to illegally occupy state land.

Last week, three villagers of M’lou Prey II commune were assaulted in a land dispute. The indigenous community is seeking justice from the authority following the assault by the group believed to be sugarcane plantation workers. 

Four days after the conflict on February 11, M’lou Prey II community representative, Seun Tha, 31, received the summons issued by the commune police. Tha said he is very disappointed, noting that indigenous people are the victims as they lost their land and survive on low incomes.

In the summons reviewed by CamboJA, four community representatives will be questioned by Preah Vihear court prosecutor on February 27. The summons states that the court will question them for allegedly obstructing the company’s work and for inciting people to illegally occupy state land on January 16, 2024.

The summons did not name the company but people believe that it is the Chinese company which was granted land for development from the​ government in 2011.

Tha called it an injustice against indigenous peoples, who often suffered abuse by those in power, and the law. He hopes the government will reconsider the plight of indigenous people and that the court would render them justice.

“It is very unfair for indigenous people like us. We just cultivated our land and now we are being issued a summons,” Tha said. “I hope the court will drop the charges against the three of us and other community representatives.”

Nop Vuthy, spokesperson of Preah Vihear province, told CamboJA that the company was suing them, and claimed that the provincial authorities had tried several times to resolve the case out of court. However, the case was beyond the jurisdiction of the provincial authorities, he added.

“We mediated out of court, but now the company sued them. This case is not under the control of the local authorities,” Vuthy said.

Another community member, who is also a Kuy native, Pean Sophat, said they did nothing wrong as the people came to cultivate their land, not the company land. 

“We oppose [the summons] because the land that the company is developing is not state land, it is our land which we have been cultivating for a long time,” he added. 

The national policy on indigenous peoples’ development in 2009 recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples to land, traditions, culture and customs. The 2001 Land Law recognizes the rights of indigenous communities to their collective use of land. 

Although Cambodia has a policy of recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples, there is little protection for their interests. Since 2001, only around five indigenous communities have received collective title deeds.

Preah Vihear provincial court spokesperson, Chum Kaniya could not be reached for comment.