O'raing district governor Seak Mony in Mondulkiri province acknowledged that he had transferred hundreds of hectares of farmland from farmers in Sen Monorom commune, but noted that their land was purchased by Srey Chanthou, who holds the honorific Okhna.
The governor said the land was purchased for investment and he was not involved in encroaching on anyone’s land.
Mony made a statement on February 8 after Chanthou came forward to announce that he had bought many hectares of land from the people through Mony, but it was all legally purchased and he had never attempted to grab anybody’s land.
The statements issued by Mony and Chanthou came after Pen Ean, a personal adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, submitted a letter to Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, requesting that the ministry review the case of Mony and other officials in that district who were alleged to have conspired to take state land – and that of indigenous people – for their own benefit.
“Usually, Chanthou could request that we, as district authorities, transfer the land to him. Now the land has been reclaimed by the state, not just his land, but all of it,” Mony said.
The district governor had previously explained that in 2018, Chanthou bought more than 500ha of land in Pouraing village in order to develop a dairy farm. Back then, the district administration did not have its own land data management system, which made it difficult to identify the boundaries or land ownership. Local people had sold and transferred ownership of many plots of land to one another and to traders, he noted.
Only in late 2018 did the administration receive the management system, which made it easy for them to identify all of the land which had been bought or sold. Thanks to the system, they discovered that more than 50 families had sold more than 500ha of village land to Chanthou. Some of the land had even been sold two or three times, he added.
Chanthou’s February 8 clarification letter said that from 2012 through 2020, he had purchased many hectares of farmland in the district. The purchases were made openly through district governor Mony. He had paid duty on the land and invested in agriculture.
“Having bought and paid for the land, I applied for registration with the local authorities and sought a cadastral from officials, so that they would measure my property and issue receipts,” it read.
It added that along with the land registration, he had submitted documents to Mony asking to establish a farm called 7 Ranch Cambodia. The farm would raise cattle, horses, sheep and goats.
He also submitted a letter to the provincial governor asking for support for the investment project. He planned to construct breeding stations for animals, grow vegetables, fruits and plants, and invest in agriculture-tourism, sport and retirement homes.
“I bought all of this land in good faith. I occupied this land as its rightful owner. Had I known that this land belonged to the state, I would not have spent money investing in it,” Chanthou said.
Kreung Tola, an adviser to the Bunong indigenous communities in Mondulkiri, said on February 10 that what O’Raing district authorities had said was very different from local people’s accounts. Some said they had sold some land, but did not sell it to Chanthou, and the area of land sold was nowhere near to hundreds of hectares.
“People acknowledge that they did sell 1 or 2ha, but not as large as 41 or 42ha. I want to see more detailed records and measurements to see whether the people sold the land or Chanthou intruded on it,” he said.