Villagers in Mondulkiri province’s O’Raing district have accused the chiefs of Pou Treng village and Dak Dam commune of allowing traders to continue clearing 503ha and colluding to sell community land to business people since April.
Pou Treng villager Pyean Chren told The Post on Thursday that village chief Plorng Chheng and Dak Dam commune chief Chas Na had sold 503ha of land under false premises, by using the villagers’ credentials, while most of it is forest community land and some belong to 23 families.
He said after it was sold, traders used machinery to clear the land, but the work was halted after 13 villagers protested.
On Wednesday, Chren said, the land clearing resumed despite villagers submitting complaints to relevant departments and the provincial hall more than a month ago.
“I have not seen [the provincial authorities] coming to address this case. Until now, nothing has been done,” he said.
Chren said he did not know how much the 503ha plot was sold for or which traders were involved in the scheme.
Teuy Tren, another local villager, told The Post that 6ha of land belonging to him, his brother, his nephews and nieces and his children was being taken illegally.
He said they had owned the plot since the 1980s and used it to plant crops such as cashew nuts, mangoes and cassava.
“Right now, I can get onto the land, but if I need to transport the cassava out, there are no exit ways because the surrounding area has been encroached on,” Tren said.
Pou Treng village chief Plorng Cheng told The Post that the 503ha of community land had been put up for sale some time ago, but it was due to a GPS mistake whereby the devices marked areas belonging to local people.
Cheng said he then issued a statement rejecting the land’s demarcation, which people from the community acknowledged, to prevent the plot being sold.
He said an excavator that was spotted on Wednesday was on a different site – 300ha of farmland which belonged to local people.
“The land that was being sold was all farmland which is owned by local people, but nothing has been solved yet, and it does not affect the community land,” he said.
Provincial hall spokesman Sok Sera said he was unaware of the villagers’ complaints but said neither the authorities nor the community had the right to sell any community forest that was officially registered.
“No one has the right to sell a registered community forest. Not insiders or outsiders,” Sera stressed.
Eangy Mengly, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said he received word from the community about the land clearance on Wednesday and said it was taking place on land the community claimed was community forest.
“Such grabbing of community forest land is illegal. Who is involved in the case? And why have the authorities not paid attention to solve it?” he asked.