Residents and civil society organisations on Thursday filed a joint complaint with the Mondulkiri Provincial Court against Pech Chreada district officials, including village and commune chiefs and the governor, for permitting the sale of community forest land.
A resident said more than 1,000ha of land was cleared.
Three members of the Bunong ethnic group in the district and an Adhoc official filed the complaint against Pou Chroch village chief Blok Chrov, Sre Ampoum commune chief Thuy Bunloeun and Pech Chreada district governor Meul Soeun.
The complaint stated the three officials signed and stamped a letter allowing 1,231ha to be sold illegally for private ownership. The land has been recognised by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries since 2013.
“Please take back 231ha of land as state property. Restore damaged forests and condemn those who are involved in forest loss according to the law,” the complaint read.
Activist Kroeung Tola, who is listed as a complainant, said according to information he received, most of the land was sold by villagers. They allegedly bribed commune authorities with money to sign the letter permitting the sale.
“Legally, any area registered as state land cannot be taken [for private occupation] without a letter confirming the transfer of public property to private property,” he said.
Pou Chroch villager Kim Mhach said that 60 per cent of the forest land in question has been cleared since 2018. Mhach fears that if preventive action is not taken soon, the entire forest could be wiped out.
He further said the community had filed a previous complaint against the authorities for clearing the forest.
“The names of people who sold the land are not known. The forest land is still logged, cleared and encroached upon. When we posted these activities on social media, they [activities] seemed to stop. We don’t know if the clearing will continue or stop,” he said.
District governor Meul Soeun and commune chief Thuy Bunloeun could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
The Pou Kroch village chief said the community forest land in the village was transferred by the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of Environment.
National and provincial officials gave land in the area back to more than 30 families because they were found to have owned it since 2005, before the announcement of recognition by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Provincial Department of Environment director Keo Sopheak could not be reached for comment on Thursday but he previously said that community forest land in Sre Ampoum was transformed into a biodiversity conservation area under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment.
Mondulkiri provincial hall spokesperson Sok Sera said he was not aware of any charges against officials in Pech Chreada concerning the loss of community forest land.
He suggested that citizens file a complaint to the province before deciding to file a case to the court.
“If they have already filed a complaint to the court, we can’t do anything. This is their right and now we have to wait for the court to handle the case,” he said.
In a separate incident, Sre Ampoum commune police summoned two residents for questioning after they claimed that 1,000ha of community forest land was cleared and occupied in Pou Radet village.