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Village officials accused of selling off forest land

Village officials accused of selling off forest land

Officials in Mondulkiri’s Sen Monorom commune have asked the deputy Purang village chief and a former Purang Primary School director to appear at the commune hall next Friday for questioning over the alleged selling of community forest land.

The summonses follow a complaint filed to commune officials on Wednesday by a group of 55 families belonging to the Phnong ethnic community in Purang village, in O’Raing district. A complaint was also filed to rights group Adhoc.

Seng Ye, deputy Purang village chief, and Yorn Sarith, the former Purang Primary School director, allegedly sold 59 hectares of forest land to Sreng Lorn, who owns a petrol station in Sen Monorom town, according to Nhan Srey, head of the local Phnong community. Documents for the January sale were allegedly signed by village and commune authorities, he said.

“We did not know about the selling until they started clearing the land with tractors last month,” Srey said. “The sale of land is illegal, so we just filed the complaint.”

Kvan Trel, chief of Sen Monorom commune, acknowledged having signed the sale documents but claimed the sellers had ownership documents they had received in 2008 from a former commune chief, adding that commune officials also weren’t aware that the land in question was community forest, she said.

“The community used GPS to claim the land as their community forest,” she said. “Ye and Sarith transferred the ownership to buyer [Sreng Lorn], and we signed the document based on the ownership documents issued in 2008 because we did not know that it affected the community’s land.”

Trel said she will try to find a solution when the sellers appear for questioning. If the problem is not resolved, she said, she will forward the complaint to district hall.

Ung Serey Vuthy, the current Purang village chief, also confirmed having signed off on the sale, though he also claimed to have done so based on the ownership documents. Serey Vuthy said that when Ye was the Purang village chief, he “gave” the land to Sarith. It’s unknown if Ye was Purang village chief at the time the 2008 ownership documents were issued.

“The sellers controlled the land before the establishment of the community in 2015 or 2016,” he claimed.

Sok Rotha, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said authorities and Adhoc inspected the disputed area last Thursday after receiving the complaint, and that based on his observations, the area was state forest.

“No one has the authority to have ownership of forestland,” he said.

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