Give Land to Official or Go to Jail: Bunong Villagers Allege Foul Play

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Bunong community members in Mondulkiri province’s O’Reang district meet officers of the Supreme Consultative Council in 2019. (File photo: Sroy Khet’s Facebook page)
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A representative of an indigenous Bunong community in Mondulkiri province’s O’Reang district has accused a Justice Ministry undersecretary of state of threatening to jail community members if they did not give him 472 hectares of land.

Norn Srev, who said he represented 55 families living on the plot, said on Wednesday that the ministry official, Seng Sovannara, came to them on June 26 and said the land belonged to him. He told the families he would arrest them and put them in prison if they protested, Srev said.

“Seng Sovannara is from the Justice Ministry in Phnom Penh and he is an Excellency. That is why we feel confused and why it’s complicated,” Srev said.

“He said ethnic minority people shouldn’t be arrogant,” Srev said. The official told them “not to resist and threatened everyone.”

The families had farmed the land since 1985, he added.

Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said the dispute did not concern the ministry.

“It is a private dispute between people in a community and a private individual,” Malin said.

The aggrieved party should file a complaint to the court, he added.

Sovannara, the undersecretary of state, declined to comment.

“Sorry, I am busy checking people’s rice, which is dying,” he told VOD.

Kvan Trel, Sen Monorom commune chief, said he had only heard about the dispute secondhand and also declined to comment.

Adhoc’s Mondulkiri coordinator, Ieng Mengly, said the ministry should be concerned over the accusations that Sovannara had abused his position to pressure the Bunong community.

“It is a serious human rights violation and could be seen as an abuse of power to threaten the people,” Mengly said. “This is a violation of ethnic people’s rights and a violation of the law, if it happened as the people claimed.”

People would lose faith in public institutions if the ministry failed to investigate, he said, adding that Adhoc would also be looking into the case’s veracity.

(Translated and edited from the original story on VOD Khmer)

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