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Rural development director implicated in clearing

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

Rural development director implicated in clearing

The director of Mondulkiri’s rural development department stands accused of clearing about 50 hectares of state-owned forest for his own farming purposes, authorities said yesterday.

Provincial environment department director Keo Sopheak said a working group had investigated allegations brought by a local forest community and on February 7 determined that the land had been illegally cleared.

“The land he claimed did not have any document [authenticating ownership] and he had it illegally. It’s located in [Keo] Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, which is managed by the community,” Sopheak said.

Rural department director Yun Saroum yesterday said that while he had no proper title, he had purchased the land about seven years ago before planting cashews, pepper, banana and potatoes.

“I bought it from an indigenous minority group … I recognise there is no legal document when I bought the land, but if this land belongs to the state, why didn’t they tell me, since I have used it for seven years?” Saroum said.

He added if his land was confiscated, other nearby farms should be as well.

Sok Ratha, of rights group Adhoc, said Saroum should have known the people had no right to sell it and that he should face the legal consequences.

Sopheak said the case was still under investigation but expected it would be sent to the provincial court. He said the land had been confiscated and would be given back to the state and managed by the Phnong community to help them make a living.

Sopheak said authorities had only recently discovered the illegal clearing with the aid of land management data.

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