R’kiri Commune Chief Accused of Land Grab

More than 100 ethnic minority villagers in Ratanakkiri province complained to local rights group Adhoc Thursday alleging that a CPP commune chief brokered the unauthorized sale of their land to a provincial health official.

Adhoc provincial coordinator Pen Bonnar said Friday that Tam­poun ethnic minority villagers in Bo­keo district’s Kak commune, along with commune chief R’chom Noeuy, accused neighboring Keh Chung commune chief Chom Lay of selling 107 hectares of their land in July for $40,000 to Huy Louy, a staffer at Ratanakkiri referral hospital.

Chom Lay dismissed the accusation on Friday, saying that the land is in fact part of Keh Chung commune and does not belong to Kak commune villagers.

“The land is the ancestral land of villagers in [Keh Chung commune’s] Loeu Khuon village,” Chom Lay said, adding that the villagers thumbprinted documents proving that the land was theirs to sell.

Huy Louy, the new owner of the disputed land, claimed he had documents signed by Chom Lay and Bokeo district Governor Khum Sak­­horn proving the deal was legitimate. He added that he had spent over $50,000 to purchase the land from the Loeu Khuon villagers.

“I dared to buy the land because all those [Loeu Khuon] villagers guaranteed and thumbprinted documents to take responsibility if other parties attempted to claim the land,” he said.

Khum Sakhorn could not be reached for comment Friday.

Article 28 of the 2001 Land Law prohibits the sale of communal land.

“No authority outside the community may acquire any rights to immovable properties belonging to an indigenous community,” the law states.

Pen Bonnar confirmed that the disputed land was registered in Keh Chung commune but said that 15 families from Kak commune had been planting crops there since 1979, making the land legally theirs.

“Although the land is listed in Keh Chung commune and is the ancestral land of villagers in Loeu Khuon village, villagers in Kak commune have used that land since 1979,” he said. “So the land must belong to the land users in Kak commune,” he added.

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