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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rural official facing new accusations

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Ethnic villagers pose for a photograph after formally filing a complaint against the rural development director. Photo supplied

Rural official facing new accusations

Mondulkiri’s beleaguered director of rural development, Yung Saroum, has been hit with a lawsuit by human rights and indigenous groups after he threatened to reveal the names of other civil servants who – like him – illegally grabbed state-owned land.

Last week, the Ministry of Environment ordered that 23 hectares of Saroum’s land be confiscated and returned to local indigenous communities because they had been seized illegally. In response, Saroum allegedly told local media outlet Apsara News Network that he would reveal information about other officials involved in land grabbing if the land he appropriated was taken from him.

Now local activists say Saroum is breaking the law by withholding information about illegal activities, and are suing him as a result.

“Saroum knew about land clearing, and yet there was no action taken,” said Adhoc official Pen Bonnar, who filed the lawsuit on Friday along with 17 members of the indigenous community.

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A landscape shot of the land in dispute in Mondulkiri province. Photo supplied

Kreung Tola, one of the plaintiffs, said the case is an issue of corruption, since Saroum was a local official who looked the other way in the face of land grabbing.

Saroum yesterday denied threatening to reveal the name of the land clearers, and claimed to have no knowledge of the lawsuit. While Apsara posted a story containing the threat, no audio or video was posted.

Saroum also denied having illegally cleared the 23 hectares of land, saying that he bought the land for $500 in 2003, adding that he was willing to appear in court to testify.

Keo Sopheak, director of the provincial environment department, confirmed that he was still preparing to seize Saroum’s land.



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John Lowrie's picture

I recall on my first visit in 1998 to what was then a pristine largely still-forested province, a prominent Khmer man telling me: "It's El Dorado!" So it was and has been, for Khmer and other external settlers, but not for most of the Bunong people once the large majority, as their lands have been taken from them. First we saw rampant logging, then actual land-grabs, followed by awards to concessions for economic development. All have been conducted with scant regard for the rights of indigenous people under international and domestic laws. Yung Saroum is right. He is far from being the only or worst offender. At least he is not an absentee profiteer. There will come a time when Cambodian leaders, just like leaders today in the US, Canada, and Australia, regret their outrageous past treatment of their compatriots who were there first. Today though too many still regard them as "Phnong", primitive, unworthy of controlling their lands. They are anything but!