Ethnic minorities in Ratanakkiri province have accused local authorities of selling community forest land to a provincial court official and threatening to put them in jail, according to a complaint filed yesterday.
The complaint was filed to the provincial office of rights group Adhoc by five community representatives on behalf of 190 ethnic Tampuon families from Lumphat district’s Batang commune.
Svin Vev, one of the representatives, said that village chief Theng Main sold 2 hectares of community forest to an outsider, who then cleared out another surrounding 10 hectares and sold them to Ratanakkiri provincial judge Eng Samnab.
In total, the lost land has grown to about 20 hectares, which Samnab is using for a cashew plantation, Vev said.
The community complained to the provincial Forestry Administration, but to no avail, causing village representatives to collect thumbprints for a petition.
However, village chief Theng Maing seized copies of the petition and threatened to send the protesters to jail, the complaint states.
Maing yesterday denied the accusation that he sold forest land but acknowledged seizing the petition, saying it was “illegal”.
Commune chief Ket Chem confirmed that he approved the sale to judge Chamnab “three or four” years ago, but said the community had already cleared it by that time.
Judge Eng Samnab, who said he invested tens of thousands of dollars into the plantation, echoed Chem’s rebuttal.
“If it was community land, the authorities would not have signed for me,” he said.
Adhoc coordinator Chhay Thy said the group will send the complaints to provincial court.