Supreme Court Sends Indigenous Land Case for Retrial

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The three defendants, Khvoeung Tum, Ploek Navy and Ploek Phyrom, stand outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday. (Ouch Sony/VOD)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday called for a retrial for three indigenous Bunong women who were convicted of removing fence posts on purportedly private property while trying to protect ancestral lands.

Supreme Court judge Kim Sathavy ruled against the Tbong Khmum Appeal Court decision of November 11, and decided to return the case to the appeal court for retrial.

The three defendants appeared before the Supreme Court last week, arguing they were only trying to protect their ancestral lands.

Ploek Phyrom, 39, Ploek Navy, 37, and Khvoeung Tum, 48, were sentenced last year to two years in prison and fined 10 million riel by the Mondulkiri Provincial Court for intentional damage. The Appeal Court upheld the conviction but reduced sentences.

Navy, one of the Bunong defendants, told VOD she had heard about the Supreme Court decision and was happy after losing twice at lower courts.

She hoped the Appeal Court in Tbong Khmum would give justice to her community as the real owners of the land, she said.

“I want them to find proper justice and want them to drop all charges,” Navy said.

Navy and the two others were accused of having removed and damaged fence poles in October 2020 alongside about 70 other people on property owned by plaintiffs Khun Samna and Sim Bophanna. Local Bunong residents accuse Samna and Bophanna of taking their community land in Sokdum commune’s Lauka village.

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