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Ethnic group press for communal title

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Log Pile logging cut by Vietnamese company in Paknhai commune’s Lom village. Photograph: Adhoc

Economic land concessions granted to a pair of Vietnamese companies in Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadav district were endangering the traditional lifestyles of as many as 200 ethnic-minority families, villagerstold the Post yesterday.

As the companies actively cleared forest to make room for the eventual rubber plantations, the government was  pressuring the families to sign land titles for individual, five-hectare plots, they said.

“Only 102 families agreed to register, after district authorities threatened to take no action on their behalf if they did not sign,” Romas Chhvang, a representative of Paknhai commune’s Lom village, said.

Romas said the other families had not registered because they wanted to continue to live communally in the forest and feared that opting for individual titles would cause them to lose their link to theirancestors and their traditional cultural heritage.

Chhay Thy, the provincial co-ordinator for Adhoc, condemned the two companies, known to the villagers only as Company 72 and Day Dong Yoeung.

“About 100 metres by 3,000 metres of forest area have been cleared. We saw huge piles of  luxury woods,” he said, adding that Adhoc planned to submit a report to the Forestry Administration and relatedinstitutions in the hope they will help the Jarai.

Adhoc investigator Pen Bonnar echoed Chhay’s views.

“There is a lack of transparency,” he said. “Local people do not get enough information [on land rights] because some [of the] information is kept secret.”

Villagers are often unable to take pre-emptive action and can protest or file complaints only after companies begin to clear their land.

District governor Dok Sar yesterday maintained that the only way any minority group would be able to keep their forests was to register for a private land title.

According to the land law,  legally binding communal  titling is meant to be a work-around for indigenous minorities, although only a handful of such titles have been awarded over the years.

 To contact the reporter on this story: Phak Seangly at seangly.phak@phnompenhpost.com

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