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Ethnic villagers point finger at land official

Rights group Adhoc is investigating claims that a Ratanakkiri province cadastral officer is illegally grabbing and selling off forest land, officials at the organisation said.

Khin Sophal, a director of the O’Yadav district cadastral office, bought land titles from 50 families in the province and sold the parcels to a businesswoman, a Jarai ethnic minority living in the district said yesterday.

But in addition to the purchased plots, portions of neighbouring land was also seized and cleared, villager Romas Sat, 48, told the Post in an interview yesterday.

“We are worried the villagers who have sold their land to the business people will not have land to live and the [developers] continue clearing the land, affecting land we do not sell,” he said.

According to Chhay Thy, a provincial coordinator for Adhoc, Khin Sophal legally bought land titles for $1,500 per hectare, buying five to six hectares per family. But neighbours claimed that unsold land and parts of the Jarai ethnic community forest were grabbed as well.

“We held a meeting with the community on Sunday and there was a report of more land clearance besides the land bought from people,” Thy said.

Khin Sophal could not be reached for comment yesterday.

“Sophal does not dare to pick up a call today because a lot of journalists have called him and he knows the case we are investigating,” Chhay Thy said yesterday.

“But when Radio Free Asia contacted him this morning he admitted he has bought more than 100 hectares of land legally, but we have also found out the land is a forest land. But authorities have conspired and let … people sell the land. This is a pure forest clearance.”

Pav Horm Phan, Ratanakkiri provincial governor, told the Post that he had not received any information about illegal land clearance.

“No one has reported forest clearance to me. But if it is happening, it is illegal,” he said.

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