Indigenous Jarai villagers in Ratanakkiri province’s Andong Meas district have accused their village chief and community head of selling 300ha of state forest land that they require for their daily livelihood.
Sal Boeun, a Jarai villager in Nhang commune, said Taing Chi village chief Rochom Phieng and community head Sal Tork colluded to sell over 300ha of community forest to six people.
He said villagers are unhappy that their traditional lands were sold from under them, stressing that they used the land for daily living.
“We saw that someone entered to clear the forest, and we went to stop them, but the logger told us they had already bought the land.
“We wondered who sold the land. After that, the logger told us the village chief and community head had sold it to them. The logger also said they had already paid some money and in a few more days would pay them the rest,” he said.
Another villager who asked not to be named said the authorities must return the land to the villagers, who have used it as their ancestors to collect fruits, vegetables, mushrooms and firewood for daily living.
“We already asked around and the commune authority was not involved in the sale. It was the village chief and community head. If the buyers do not return the land to keep as state property, then we will protest to the Andong Meas district authority,” he said.
Phieng told The Post on Tuesday that he did not sell any forest land. The accusation is not true, and is not based on any evidence, he said.
He said the area only had land owned by the Phary 7 Makara company, which was growing rubber trees. It did not grab any land from villagers.
“People always accuse others of having sold the land, but for sure, they do not have any land for me to sell. The community land was already divided to them, so there is no more community land,” he said.
Commune chief Ronam Hin said he received information from locals about the issue and questioned the village chief last month and cleared him.
He said besides the company land, another 300ha in the area is state land and nobody can sell it.
“So, if the case continues, then I will call both parties for questioning. It’s not good to accuse each other. The forest land cannot be sold or bought by anyone,” he said.
Andong Meas district governor Khen Sanit said the case first came across his desk a few months ago when the commune chief successfully stopped the selling of state land.
He said he will now investigate the new reports to see if someone is again trying to sell state land.