Village Chief Accused of Stealing Communal Rice

More than 60 people in Siem Reap province on Wednesday protested against their village chief, accusing him of selling rice from the village rice bank as well as part of the land on which the rice bank stood.

Lam Kek, Kauk Knang village chief in Angkor Chum district, oversees deposits and withdrawals from the rice bank, to which 104 families contribute 8 kg of rice each year in the event that a family cannot support itself.

Ry Phoeung, 40, one of the aggrieved villagers, said that suspicions were raised in the community when a family in need was denied rice from the bank.

“All of us protested after a villager came to the village chief and asked for a loan, but the village chief replied that there was no more rice in the bank,” Mr. Phoeung said.

Mr. Kek, however, said that while more than 30 tons of rice had passed through the bank since it was established in 2002, only 4,700 kg remained because villagers were behind with repayments. He also said that he had sold some rice from the bank in order to raise enough money to build a shop on the land selling farming equipment that would help the villagers in­crease their productivity.

“Most of the rice is lost because we gave loans to villagers but they have not paid back,” Mr. Kek said, explaining that he had sold 1,500 kg of the bank’s rice in order to build the new shop.

Villagers, though, believe that a businessman has bought the land from Mr. Kek and built the shop.

“We know the village chief sold the land to a businessman, Mr. Phoeung said. “Villagers do not agree with the sale…because it is all of our land together.”

Commune chief Ly Sarean acknowledged that Mr. Kek had built a shop on the land, but insisted it was still communally owned by the villagers.

“Villagers misunderstood that the village chief sold the land to a businessman for an agricultural shop because he did not inform them he was selling rice [from the rice bank] to get the money to build the shop,” Mr. Sarean said, adding that the land could not be sold because the villagers bought it communally in 2002.

Withdrawals from the rice bank can be taken out as stocks fall between September and January. But villagers must replace the rice at harvest time at the beginning of the year.

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