A member of the Jarai ethnic minority allegedly had his life threatened by a deputy village chief after he refused to sell communally owned farmland in Ratanakkiri province’s O’yadaw district, a rights worker said yesterday.
Sul Lem, deputy chief of Paknhai commune’s Pakpo village, allegedly ordered local villagers to sell more than 200 hectares of the community’s farmland to an unidentified wealthy businessman, according to Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc.
On Saturday, Mr Lem went to the house of Sev Than, a 25-year-old member of the Jarai ethnic minority, and asked him to agree to the sale of the land, threatening him when he refused, Mr Bonnar said.
“Around four families, including Mr Than’s family, gave us information that they refused to sell their community farmland,” he said. Mr Than asked Adhoc for help on Monday after claiming the deputy village chief “threatened to kill Mr Than’s family, then slapped him several times for his denial.”
Mr Lem, the accused deputy village chief, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Mr Lem allegedly said the following during the encounter, according to Mr Than: “I would only pay as much as $2,000 or $3,000 to kill your family.” Mr Than added that the deputy village chief told him that his family would be given a “big sum of money” if he agreed to sell the land.
Commune chief Rocham Leuch said he knew nothing of the accusation against Mr Lem.
“I don’t know anything on this case, but I don’t believe my deputy village chief has threatened the life of his people,” Mr Leuch said.
District governor Dak Sar had a similar response to the allegations, but added that selling or buying community farmland by force is “an offense.” Mr Sar said he would look into the case.
Mr Bonnar said there has been a movement to buy community owned farmland in the area. “Villagers are being asked by their village and commune chiefs to sell forest or community farmland,” he said.