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State-owned forestland that was allegedly cleared by a Mondulkiri official illegally for his own farming purposes. Photo supplied
State-owned forestland that was allegedly cleared by a Mondulkiri official illegally for his own farming purposes. Photo supplied

Official ordered to return land

The Ministry of Environment has ordered that 23 hectares of land being used by the head of Mondulkiri’s Department of Rural Development be confiscated and returned to the local indigenous community, authorities confirmed yesterday.

Mondulkiri’s director of rural development, Yung Saroum, was accused of illegally clearing about 50 hectares of state-owned forest for his own farming purposes after a local forest community lodged a complaint.

A working group investigating the case determined that while some of the land was privately owned farmland, the director had cleared 23 hectares of community forest to grow cashews.

“Between 2014 and 2016, Mr Yung Saroum bulldozed community forest land without authorities’ approval,” a ministry statement reads. “Representatives of the community have requested that Saroum be prevented from bulldozing community forest land and that the relevant authorities confiscate the land that was already cleared.”

Saroum was given farmland by the local village chief in 2008, but bulldozed much of the surrounding forest years later, the ministry statement elaborated.

Minister of Environment Say Sam Al called for the territory to be properly classified. “I request that an expert categorise clearly what is old farmland and what is new clearing that must remain public land,” he wrote in a statement.

Provincial governor Svay Sam Eang, however, claimed that he had not yet received the ministry’s order, and couldn’t say what would become of Saroum.

“Before I confiscate land and take administrative action, I will wait for the ministry’s decision,” Sam Eang said.

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