Indigenous villagers in eastern Cambodia’s Mondulkiri province have filed a complaint in local court against military officers and a land speculator who forcibly confiscated more than 80 hectares (198 acres) of their land, an official from a rights group said Thursday.
Phnong indigenous villagers from 44 families in the province’s Keo Seima district filed the complaint on Sept. 27 after the local military chief, Sak Sarun, and land speculator, Lek Ha, forced them from their homes and seized their rice fields in June, said Sok Ratha, provincial coordinator for the domestic rights group Adhoc.
The seizures took place even though provincial authorities had issued the families certificates of ownership for the land, he said.
Adhoc is intervening on behalf of the villagers to ask the provincial prosecutor to see that justice prevails in the dispute.
Sok Ratha told RFA that Sak Sarun had violated the country’s land title and indigenous laws by confiscating forestland on which the villagers have been planting crops since 2001.
Authorities granted the land ownership certificates even though villagers have had to occasionally leave the area for short periods for security reasons, he said.
Proeuk Be, chief of Srey Preah commune where the families live, said he issued certificates of ownership to the families last June so they could cultivate the land.
At the time, local authorities summoned Sak Sarun to discuss the matter, but he declined to participate.
That same month, Sak Sarun and two other officers arrested three of the villagers who were about to plant rice and handcuffed and beat them for taking pictures of land that he had confiscated.
RFA could not reach Sak Sarun for comment.
Proeuk Be accused the military officers of illegally grabbing the land and destroying forest area that was reserved for wildlife, so they could claim it as their own property.
He said he asked district officials for help in resolving the land conflict, but the matter has not been addressed.
“We have tried our best at commune and district levels,” he said. “The district governors apologized to the villagers for being unable to help resolve the issue. He already has sent documentation to the provincial level for further action.”
Villager Neth Sreng said he twice filed complaints with the local court about the land grabs, but a solution has yet to be found.
The villagers will file complaints at the national level if the court fails to resolve the case, he said.
Reported by Ratha Visal for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.