Source: Khmer Times | Tue, 17 May 2016, by Ros Chanveasna
About 25 residents from Pursat province’s Krakor district gathered in front of the Court of Appeals yesterday, demanding a conviction of illegal deforestation leveled against a village representative be dropped after it was upheld.
Community leader Soum Saravuth was charged with clearing land that local residents say has been in his private ownership for years.
Resident Mao Nhen, 52, said that he and others like Mr. Saravuth had been living on land in Krakor since the 1980s before the local authorities only recently classified the plots as state-owned.
“We planted multiple kinds of trees like mangoes on the disputed land,” Mr. Nhen said.
He added that Mr. Saravuth had previously been imprisoned for one month and eight days after a dispute with the local authority in 2012.
Mr. Saravuth’s 48-year-old older sister, Hov Chan, told Khmer Times that she and other residents were gathering to demand justice for her brother, who was tried in absentia and sentenced to five years in prison by the Pursat Provincial Court in 2015.
“Unfortunately, the Appeal Court has decided to uphold the decision from the provincial court and also issued an arrest warrant for my brother as well,” Ms. Chan, a Sna Ansa commune resident, said.
The long-standing land dispute began in 2012 when 63 hectares of village land was converted by the local authority into community property. A total of 21 families claimed at the time to own sections of the land, despite not having official land titles to it.
After the commune chief filed a suit accusing her brother of deforestation, Ms. Chan said he fled.
Deputy Governor of Krakor district, Sok Khorn, who is in charge of the dispute’s resolution, could not be reached for comment yesterday.