Local Gov Puts Kibosh on ‘Illegal’ Land Sale

The governor of Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district said yesterday he had ordered a commune chief not to sign paperwork for the sale of 275 hectares of community land in a deal allegedly being arranged by a deputy village chief on behalf of a wealthy businessman.

Contacted by telephone, district governor Dak Sar said he ordered Rocham Leuch, chief of Paknai commune, “not to sign documents for the sale of communal land” after he had been informed that a deputy village chief was coercing families of the Jarai indigenous group to affix their thumbprints to a document authorizing the sale of 275 hectares of communal land.

The sale of communal land is prohibited by law.

Sul Lem, deputy chief of Paknhai commune’s Pakpo village, allegedly ordered local villagers to sell the community’s farmland to an unidentified wealthy businessman for $400 per hectare, Mr Sar said.

“Anyone who dares sign on the document allowing for the sale of communal land will be fired,” Mr Sar said, adding that he informed all seven commune chiefs that they would be removed from their posts and face legal lawsuits if they signed such a document. He declined to elaborate when asked if Mr Lem would face prosecution.

Mr Leuch agreed not to sign on to “such an illegal land sale,” Mr Sar added.

Sev Than, a 25-year-old member of the Jarai ethnic minority group said the deputy village chief “must be prosecuted.”

“I refused to add my thumbprint because I wanted to keep the community farmland for the next generation,” he said, “because almost all rotation farmland has been grabbed or secretly sold by corrupt officials.”

Contact information for Mr Lem was not available yesterday.

The human rights group Adhoc has recorded seven land disputes in recent years between local indigenous villagers with powerful officials in O’Yadaw district. These disputes, affecting approximately 3,000 hectares, include cases involving wealthy businessman Ta Vei; Keat Kolney, the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon; and Kao Try, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, according to Adhoc investigator Chhay Thy.

“All these high-profile land disputes have yet to be resolved,” Mr Thy said.

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