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Bunong seek assistance over suspected land grabs

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Members of the indigenous community met with Mondulkiri authorities to probe several land plots located within the Phnom Nam Lear Wildlife Sanctuary that they suspect have been grabbed for private ownership. Supplied

Bunong seek assistance over suspected land grabs

The Bunong ethnic community in Mondulkiri province’s Bou Sra commune on Friday sought Pich Chreada district hall’s assistance to probe several land plots located within the Phnom Nam Lear Wildlife Sanctuary that they suspect have been grabbed for private ownership.

However, officials said that should the private entities hold valid land titles, their ownership must be recognised under the law.

Forest activist Kroeung Tola told The Post on Monday: “The Bunong ethnic community conducted its own investigation and found five to six land titles, one of which measured 5ha. They are conducting further investigations.

“We estimate that around 1,000-2,000ha in the Phnom Nam Lear Wildlife Sanctuary has been grabbed. But this land was measured by a student group and recognised as forest land in 2013 by then provincial Department of Land Management director Chhim Kan.

“The titles were issued in 2012 but the land was not cleared. Trees have grown on the land, which makes it forest land.”

Tola said the owners of the land titles are officials of the commune and district administrations, and each of them possesses up to 5-6ha registered under the name of their family members.

“As I said, sometimes they put the names of their children, wives and mothers-in-law on the documents to skirt around legalities.

“Some of them own up to 30-40ha. I wonder why cadastral officials still issued titles when they already knew that it was forest land.

“If there was an announcement posted at the commune hall before the issuance of the titles, the community would have known and certainly protested. But maybe they failed to post the notice,” he said.

On Friday, about 20 members of the indigenous community who came to protest at the district hall met with deputy district governor Vanna Mab who was in charge of land title issuance.

Mab, said Tola, promised that he will expend full effort to investigate the land titles within his capacity.

Provincial Department of Environment director Keo Sopheak said the measurement of land and issuance of titles mean that the plots are legally recognised as private land.

This, he said, deems the intervention request by the indigenous community to be beyond the authority of the department.

“The lands had already been privatised and a sub-decree had been issued to cut those land plots out of the wildlife sanctuary,” he said.

Rights group Adhoc provincial coordinator Eang Mengly said the law stipulates that State land can be privatised as long as it is farmed and is not covered by forest.

“If a land title has already been issued but the land is covered by forest, then it could be seized and converted to State land,” he said.

Phnom Nam Lear Wildlife Sanctuary director Vuth Sarom said the land titles were issued before there even was a director for the sanctuary.

“The student group was tasked to only measure forest land that had been cleared. Even if the land plots have not been farmed for almost 10 years and have been covered by forest, if they have land titles for the plots, we cannot do anything about it,” he said.

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