Forty-five ethnic minority families in Ratanakkiri province have filed complaints against a buyer who they claim tricked them into selling their communal lands last year, O’Yadaw district police Chief Mao Sann said Tuesday.
NGO officials also charge that the villagers were tricked into selling the land by government officials.
The land, about 400 hectares in size, is located in Kong Yoak village in the district’s Pate commune, Mao Sann said, adding that he did not know the name of the buyer but that the land was obtained legally. “They thumb-printed and sold the land and got the money,” he said.
According to a report on the case prepared by a senior attorney with the NGO Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project and obtained Tuesday, commune officials told the villagers in July that if they did not sell the land, it would be taken away from them anyway and they would not receive any money.
The report stated that each of the families received around $400 for their land.
Villagers “thumbprinted a contract even though they didn’t know the content of the agreement. The villagers couldn’t read the contract, it was not read to them and they weren’t allowed to look at [it],” the report said.
Mike Davis of the environmental NGO Global Witness said Tuesday that he had received reports that the land acquisition was orchestrated by a high-ranking official at the Ministry of Land Management.
The villagers’ complaint has been sent to the cadastral commission at the district and national levels, according to an NGO official in Ratanakkiri who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Cadastral commissions provide out-of-court settlement processes for land conflicts, the NGO official said.
The complaint is against several buyers who are not named because the villagers aren’t certain of their identities, the official said. Since the sale, the land has been cleared of trees in preparation for a rubber plantation, he added.
About nine of the families have been going back every week to rebuild temporary homes on the land, but authorities have been knocking them down, the NGO official said.