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Mondulkiri officials probe community landgrab

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Backhoe loader clearing forest land in Mondulkiri province’s Pech Chreada district. Photo supplied

Mondulkiri officials probe community landgrab

Pech Chreada district authorities confirmed that they would investigate alleged community forest land grabbing in Puradet village in Mondulkiri province’s Sre Ampoum commune after residents have asked authorities to intervene, accusing a tycoon who holds the honourific title oknha and other prominent traders of being behind the land seizure.

On March 17, a bulldozer and unidentified traders continued to encroach upon the community forest land, although the communities have been protected, leading to a complaint to the court.

Seng Nop, a community member, said 1,323ha of their community land – recognised by the ministries of Interior and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries – has been encroached upon by powerful people. More than 150 families are community members.

“This land is used by indigenous communities for farming. It is almost lost and we absolutely worry about it because there is no hope that we will get it back,” she said.

She added that the encroachment has been happening for many years and although the community has filed a lawsuit to the court, nothing has happened.

“They encroached upon it to build a resort for private ownership. The land is full of big trees. I wonder why they said they have a land title. I don’t understand this. As the farmland is from our ancestors, they cannot get a land title,” she confirmed.

Another member, who asked not to be named, told The Post that he worries about the community forest land that people are trying to protect will be lost, because the situation of encroachment still continues. He asked the authorities, especially the government to protect the land for the next generation of his indigenous people.

“We do not know the land clearer. We just heard that he is a nephew of a Chum Teav in Phnom Penh. When there is encroachment, there are always different people, but in fact it is the same group of the individuals,” he said.

“According to the map we have, this land is a collective of the forest protection community that we have tried to protect more and more. Now, it can no longer be protected,” he confirmed.

Pech Chreada district governor Meul Soeun confirmed that he did not know the land had been encroached upon. But he confirmed that he would send a team to investigate, however, he declined to comment on the community land.

“I do not have all the details, but maybe they have a land title. I will ask officials to inspect it, first,” he confirmed.

Song Kheang, director of provincial department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries declined to comment, saying that he had no information.

Soeung Sen Karuna, spokesman for rights group Adhoc said that land grabbing cases by rich and powerful people in Mondulkiri province has a series of issues, even though some actions from the government have been taken as well. But he stressed that cases continue to occur.

“Therefore, we urge the head of government to continue to send experts to conduct investigations on these cases again. If someone violates the law, legal action must be taken. It is also shows the impartial enforcement of the law,” he asked.

In 2017, community forest representatives filed a lawsuit to the provincial court to take action against wealthy individuals and traders who encroached on community land, but no action was taken, which led the community to continue to file a complaint to an Appeal of Court, according to community.

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