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Mondulkiri families seek help in land row vs ‘powerful officer’

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Villagers protest land grab in Mondulkiri province on Monday. Kreung Tola

Mondulkiri families seek help in land row vs ‘powerful officer’

Nearly 200 families of Andong Kraloeng village in Mondulkiri province are calling on authorities to prevent further clearing of land in the community by a powerful policeman known as Thang Rithy. However, land clearing activities continue despite the community and authorities trying to stop them.

According to community head Soka Thot, 51ha of land has been cleared of which 12ha is community land. Rithy has claimed that he has legal rights to fence the land and take nearly 40ha of it. Residents say that this land was always natural forestland.

Sokha Thot told The Post March 9 that the person who had set up the fence around the 40ha of land is Thang Rithy – a powerful police officer in Mondulkiri, Ratanakkiri, and Stung Treng provinces.

He added that at first this person and his associates had cleared 51ha of land in 2020 and set up a boundary fence. Following this, the community had banned activities and filed a complaint to the provincial court requesting a halt to them in order to determine land ownership and whether there had been any encroachment on community land.

“There has been clearing since 2020 and on February 28, we patrolled the land and saw that they started clearing again. Then on March 4, we tried to stop it, but [they] wouldn’t stop. The commune chief told [them] to stop but they did not listen,” he said.

According to Sokha Thot, the land has more than 1,000ha and demarcation had been recognised by relevant ministries in 2017. The community was established in 2007 and has nearly 200 families.

The Post could not reach Thang Rithy for comment.

Thvan Trel, commune chief of Sen Monorom of O’Raing district in the province, said on March 9 that after reports from the community about the clearing, the authorities immediately went to the scene. As clearing land has continued, she said that she will send a letter of complaint to the provincial department of land management, urban planning and construction, and other relevant departments to immediately resolve the issue.

However, there is no document yet and she is still waiting for inspection and measurement by officers.

“We will propose to [relevant department] to come measure and inspect the area to know if it affects community or sanctuary land. I am also not sure if we will [submit] the letter soon,” she said.

Local authority Thvan Trel said that regarding the issue, it is not clear yet whether this person has a legal right to occupy it. However, she just knows that the person has previously bought land from villagers.

She said: “I am not sure about how Rithy came to clear land but there were people from the community who sold it to him. If not, he would not just simply take it, right? As for buying and selling, I have not seen any documents yet. I do not dare to conclude anything but will wait for everybody to register first because I have never met the person [Thang Rithy].”

Kreung Tola, a coordinator for the provincial Indigenous People Network said on March 9 that the case was abuse of power because minor authorities wouldn’t dare come and try to solve the problem of land being cleared.

“This is abuse of power and breaks the law,” he said.

Mondulkiri deputy governor and provincial hall spokesman Cheak Mengheang confirmed that he had not yet received details about the case. However, he claimed that he would send a team to investigate it in the future.

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