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Mondulkiri Bunong community seeks return of forest land

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More than 200 indigenous Bunong families in Mondulkiri province have asked authorities to help return 5ha of community forest land. Photo supplied

Mondulkiri Bunong community seeks return of forest land

More than 200 indigenous Bunong families in Mondulkiri province have asked authorities to retrieve 5ha of community forest land they claim had been secretly stolen from them by speculators.

Roch Chok, a representative of the more than 200 families, told The Post on November 30 that two people in Koh Nhek district’s Or Buonloeu commune deployed two bulldozers to clear the forest land on November 29.

The two, he said, claimed to represent an unnamed tycoon with the title oknha – an honorific bestowed on those who donate at least $500,000 to the state for development.

More than 100 people went to stop the land clearing but the two, who were identified only as Thouk and Chok, showed people a land title signed by a former Koh Nhek district governor in 2014.

“We want authorities to intervene and check the land title because it is not normal. It is a dense forest area that no one can make land title to encroach on. The [indigenous] people have used the land for generations and we want the land back,” Chok said.

The Post could not reach Sok San commune chief Chan Chin for comment.

Koh Nhek district governor Dim Ny told The Post on November 30 that he had received a complaint from Bunong villagers and will send officers to investigate and collect all related data as a foundation for addressing the problem.

“We are assigning district officials to check. We need to know where their community land is located, what size it is and who encroaches on it. If we get the information it will be easy to solve for them,” he said.

The Post could not reach Chok and Thouk for comment.

Eang Mengly, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said he encouraged people to file complaints to authorities. If there is no local solution, they can go to court to receive justice.

“If there is an abnormal land title, authorities have to investigate and map the land again to keep as state property or maintain as indigenous Bunong community property. I encourage an investigation first and then we can resolve the dispute,” he said.

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