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Phnong villagers say official behind strife

Ethnic Phnong minority villagers in Mondulkiri claim that a local official has annexed more than half of the 47 hectares of community farmland granted to them in 1999.

Pleun Tean, a representative of 42 Phnong families in Sen Monorom district’s Romnea commune, said that Huot Sony, deputy governor of the nearby Koh Nhek district, was behind the scheme.

According to Tean, Sony obtained a one-year licence to use 25 of the area’s 47 hectares for a stone quarry, but was handed outright ownership documents this March after the licence expired last year.

“He grabbed our land. He is Khmer, not an ethnic villager,” she said.

“Why did the authorities give him the right to have the land?”

Sok Rotha, local coordinator for rights group Adhoc, which first received a complaint from the community, said that because the land was part of a community forest, it belonged to the state and could not be privately-owned.

“It, therefore, is against the law,” he said.

Rotha said that Adhoc would file a complaint to provincial authorities asking for intervention in the dispute and would proceed to the national level if the result was unfavourable.

Sony and other relevant officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mil Soeurn, Koh Nhek district governor, said he was unaware of the dispute between the villagers and his deputy.

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