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Indigenous woes probed

Ethnic villages from Ratanakkiri province participate in a pre-meeting ceremony
Ethnic villages from Ratanakkiri province participate in a pre-meeting ceremony on Wednesday. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Indigenous woes probed

Ethnic minority groups in Ratanakkiri province are facing widespread human rights violations, land loss and the exploitation of their natural resources, an indigenous peoples conference was told yesterday.

More than 300 villagers from the province’s Tum Poun, Kreng, Prov, Kavet, Jarai, Kachok and Lun communities hosted the annual conference, which concludes today, in Rattanakiri’s O’chum district.

Romas Saron, an indigenous representative, told the conference that economic discrimination against their communities was due to a lack of legal protection and poor implementation of existing laws.

“Our natural resources and land are grabbed for companies without any discussion; we know it when our land is bulldozed,” she said. “This problem is getting worse and worse.”

Saron criticised the government for failing to register communal land titles while speedily demarcating and titling land for private companies, which has badly affected the identities and traditions of ethnic groups.

“The authorities are very compliant with measuring land, which made us confused, and we chose the private land [titles] rather than the communal land titles,” she said.

Compounding the problems faced by indigenous communities, the authorities do not offer information about plans for hydropower dams, economic land concessions and mining concessions in their ethnic languages, she said.

Morng Vicheth, a member of the Khmer Loeu, a collection of Mon-Khmer highland tribes found mainly in Cambodia’s northeast, said that out of 69 ethnic groups in Ratanakkiri province, only two had been granted communal land titles since 1999.

“The lateness in communal land listing makes the ethnic groups lose sacred graveyards and spirit forests,” he said, adding that he hoped at least two more groups would be given land rights next year.

But ruling party lawmaker Bou Lam, who represented the government at the conference yesterday, denied the allegations.

“What they said is contrary to the real situation,” he said. “If they lost land, on what do they live and work? They live in the sky? There has been no loss,” he said before hanging up the phone.

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