A Ratanakkiri province school teacher and a commune chief were jailed Monday on charges of destroying private property stemming from a dispute involving school land in Banlung district, court officials and rights workers said Tuesday.
Yeak Lom commune schoolmaster Chhoeun Ampoeul, 48, and commune chief Byang Beb were jailed following questioning at the provincial court, Ratanakkiri Provincial Court deputy director Norng Sok said.
The two men allegedly sold a 15-by-100-meter plot of land belonging to the Yeak Lom Primary School in 2004 then tried to reclaim the property from the owner in June 2006 by burning down the owner’s small house, fence and fruit trees.
“The suspects had already sold the land but they then used violent acts to destroy a fence and home which belonged to another person,” Norng Sok said.
The plaintiff in the case, Ratanakkiri-based Build Bright University teacher Ouk Bunthoeun, has valid documents to prove he owns the land, he added.
Ouk Bunthoeun said by telephone Tuesday that he purchased the 15-by-100-meter plot of school property from the men for $200 when there was no road access to the site.
In June, Ouk Bunthoeun said, school master Chhoeun Ampoeul razed his property with Byang Beb’s consent.
Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said the school master and commune chief destroyed the property in an attempt to take the school’s land back from Ouk Bunthoeun and return it to state ownership.
Both men claim that they were tricked into selling the property to Ouk Bunthoeun, whom they alleged plied them with alcohol and convinced them to sign over the property promising to build a training center on the land, Pen Bonnar said.
“Both men were trying to regain state property which the private individual has grabbed,” Pen Bonnar added.
Khim Sarun, deputy schoolmaster of Yeak Lom Primary School, said that Chhoeun Ampoeul only agreed to sign over the land to Ouk Bunthoeun as he had promised to build a vocational training center on the school property.
“But finally, [Ouk Bunthoeun] made fake documents to get the land as his own,” Khim Sarun added.
Ouk Bunthoeun denied the allegations of duplicity on his part and said both suspects were sober when they sold him the school land.
Chhoeun Ampoeul’s wife, Tok Tin, 37, said that her husband took action to remove Ouk Bunthoeun’s fence and a building on the land after receiving approval from the commune chief and support from the local community.
“Let the court release them and jail the land grabber who took school’s land,” Tok Tin said.
“It is an injustice to jail anyone who is trying to protect state property,” she said.