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Ministry official probed for attempted land grab

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Ministry of Justice undersecretary of state Seng Sovannara is being investigating on suspicion of faking documents to grab land in the Phnom Prich and Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuaries, according to an official in Mondulkiri province. GRK NEWS

Ministry official probed for attempted land grab

An official in Mondulkiri province has said the ministries of Interior, and Environment are investigating Ministry of Justice undersecretary of state Seng Sovannara on suspicion of faking documents to grab land in the Phnom Prich and Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuaries.

An official who asked not to be named told The Post that the case was now in the hands of Minister of Interior Sar Kheng after technical officials from the ministry visited the province recently to investigate. “In short, it’s in the hands of the leader,” the official said.

In mid-July, local indigenous people shared what they claimed were three leaked letters from Sovannara requesting the Mondulkiri provincial administration to occupy more than 1,000ha in three locations in O’Raing and Koh Nhek districts.

The indigenous group suspected that most of the area was located in Phnom Prich and Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuaries and claimed some of it encroached on villagers’ community land.

In the first letter, Seng Sovannara allegedly claimed that he owned 292ha in Pou Hyam village in O’Raing district’s Sen Monorom commune.

The letter appeared to have been signed and stamped by O’Raing district governor Nong Tunnary, Sen Monorom commune chief Thvan Trel and Pou Hyam village chief Nhang Myok in December and then signed and stamped by provincial governor Svay Sam Ieng in January.

The second letter, in which Sovannara seemed to request to occupy 990ha in Antreh village in Koh Nhek district’s Or Buonloeu commune, also appeared to have been signed and stamped by all concerned – from the village chief to the provincial governor.

In the third letter, Sovannara allegedly claimed that he also owned some land in Pou Raing village in O’Raing district’s Sen Monorom commune – but this letter was signed, on November 1, 2018, only by Pou Raing village chief Uong Sereyvuthy.

Chroeut In, a member of the Bunong indigenous community in Pou Raing village, said the 990ha of land in Koh Nhek district was located in Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary, while the 292ha was in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary.

In said the 472ha that Sovannara claimed, in fact, belonged to Pou Raing villagers, but he said provincial governor Sam Ieng had revoked his decision and returned the land to the villagers after they submitted a complaint to the provincial hall.

“But even though he [Sam Ieng] announced that the land had been given back to the villagers, they are still concerned that Sovannara will attempt to grab it again as he always comes to threaten people, saying he has a letter from the province showing that the land belongs to him,” he said.

Meanwhile, another official, who also requested anonymity, said that the signing and stamping of the letters by the chiefs of the villages, communes and districts, and the provincial governor saying the land belonged to Sovannara, were illegal acts.

“It was all illegal. And the village chiefs, the commune chiefs, the district governors, the provincial governor and the ‘landowner’ [will face legal action],” the official said.

The Post was unable to contact Sovannara or Mondulkiri Provincial Hall spokesperson Sok Sera on Monday.

Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said the accusations against Sovannara involved an individual and not the Ministry of Justice.

However, he said the ministry could take administrative measures against the officials if the court finds that Sovannara had grabbed state land.

“This case does not involve the ministry. If you think that he grabbed land, sue him according to existing mechanisms,” he said.

Ieng Mengly, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said any official who had been involved in grabbing land in wildlife sanctuaries should face legal action to bring them to justice and as a lesson to those in high positions who might be tempted to take state land as their own.

“The perpetrator and his accomplices must be punished under the law because they conspired to commit a crime,” Mengly said.

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