Kachok ethnic minority villagers in Ratanakkiri’s Andong Meas district have filed a complaint against a deputy provincial governor, accusing him of illegally grabbing their land, a human rights worker said Thursday.
Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said by telephone that 483 villagers in Talav commune’s Kanath village had filed a complaint with his organization on Apr 8 against Deputy Provincial Governor Mom Saroeun. The complaint alleges that the deputy governor improperly seized 425 hectares of forest land and has illegally cleared an addtional 20 hectares of trees.
“It is a crime and violent to cut down the forest,” Mr Pen Bonnar said.
The complaint alleges that in 2008, Mr Mom Saroeun used his power to order four provincial police officers, armed with an AK-47 assault rifles and pistols, to threaten the hilltribe villagers with the possibility of prison if they did not give their thumbprints to approve the land sale.
Mr Pen Bonnar said the deputy governor had colluded with several local officials to purchase the forest land that had belonged to Kanath village. Clearing of that land began before Khmer New Year, even though the land sale has not yet been approved in court.
The Kachok villagers had also sent the complaint to Prime Minister Hun Sen on Jan 26, after village, commune and district authorities did nothing to help them, Mr Pen Bonnar said. The villagers have not yet received a response to that complaint, he added.
An assistant to Mr Mom Saroeun said Thursday that the deputy governor was in a meeting and could not answer telephone calls. He added that Mr Mom Saroeun had no role in the land dispute.
Andong Meas District Governor Romam Ponh said that he is not involved in the case, and Deputy Provincial Prosecutor Ros Saram claimed that he was not aware of the matter.