Four Bunong and an Adhoc official filed a joint lawsuit against Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary head Prum Vibol Ratanak at the Mondulkiri Provincial Court for failing to stop illegal land occupation and the buying and selling of forest land.
Vibol Ratanak denies the allegations against him.
Forest activist Kroeung Tola told The Post on Wednesday that the lawsuit was filed on Tuesday because they had obtained letters about the transfer of 51ha of land between buyers and sellers in Sen Monorom commune, in Mondulkiri province’s O’Raing district. The land belonged to the Wildlife Sanctuary.
He said trees had been painted and the locations were marked in an area known as an elephant habitat. When residents reported the case to Vibol Ratanak he ignored it, the suit claims.
“Hopefully, the court identifies who is selling the land and who allowed its sale. At this stage, we filed the lawsuit against Vibol Ratanak for him to take responsibility and testify as to who they are,” Tola said.
The lawsuit reads that the land had been transferred to Seng Areya, 33, who lives in Boeung Kak II commune’s Village 1, in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district.
The lawsuit also names two indigenous people living in Andong Kroleung village. Vibol Ratanak had summoned the two of them to thumbprint a contract and took their IDs because they had grown crops on state land, the suit alleges.
But later, their names appeared in the letters of transfer to Areya. “Because they are illiterate [and] fearful, they put their thumbprints on the contract,” the suit alleges.
Vibol Ratanak said he would appear in court to clarify the matter. He acknowledged that there were people spray painting trees to grab the land. But officials had steadily stopped the activity, he said.
“We have tried to crack down on [the activity] and the signs that we placed were removed. Since it is like this, we are tired.
“They keep saying that we ignore the crimes but the wildlife sanctuary is situated in three districts and one town and we have only 18 forest rangers,” Vibol Ratanak said.