Land Claims in Mondolkiri Lead To Inter-Department Lawsuit

In a feud that began over accusations of land grabbing in Mondolkiri province, the provincial director of mines and energy filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the provincial director of culture and fine arts.

Sey Touch, head of the provincial department of culture, allegedly accused Sann Darith, his counterpart at the department of energy, of attempting to grab a piece of state land on Phnom Doh Kromom in Sen Monorom City.

Based on a report from Mr. Touch, the Culture Ministry sent a letter to the Land Management Ministry last month asking for an investigation into allegations that the head of the provincial mines and energy department had taken 2.06 hectares of state land.

Mr. Darith said on Thursday that Mr. Touch was confused, as the land that he once oversaw in his official capacity had been transferred in 2014 to the provincial department of industry and handicraft, which was formed after the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy split in two following the 2013 national election.

Mr. Touch “visited the land and asked villagers who was in charge of managing it,” Mr. Darith said. “The villagers knew only that I had managed it in the past. But in 2014, the provincial department of mines and energy and the provincial department of industry and handicraft were made separate, so I transferred management to the provincial department of industry and handicraft at that time.”

Mr. Darith said he had given Mr. Touch a chance to publicly apologize for the accusations.

“I gave him one week to apologize. But he never officially apologized, so I have no choice but to submit this lawsuit against him,” Mr. Darith said. “It impacts my honor and reputation.”

Mr. Touch, however, said he never accused any specific individual of land grabbing.

“I reported to the Ministry of Culture that the land had been encroached upon. But I didn’t name or point to anyone,” he said. “I have nothing more to say about it. Just let the court investigate and find out if I accused him or not.”

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