But local officials reject complaints about government land concession
schemes, saying communities have no understanding of the law
Land disputes are on the rise in Kratie province, according to local rights group Adhoc, which has recorded 19 cases between March and November this year. Adhoc monitors point out that none of the cases involving private companies have been resolved.
NEARLY 400 Stieng and Phnong minority villagers from Kratie province's Snuol commune met Wednesday with local authorities to discuss land disputes and human rights issues during a forum organised to mark International Human Rights Day.
Forum organiser Mom Sakim, of the Council of Peace Network, said Human Rights Day was a good opportunity to educate ethnic minority people about their rights under domestic and international law, and to urge the protection of their rights by local authorities.
"We urge people to learn about their rights and obligations and want the government to recognise the basic rights of ethnic minorities stipulated in the Cambodian Constitution," she said.
Chan Sineth, an ethnic Phnong representative who took part in the forum, said it was important for the minorities to voice their opinions.
"I am excited that I dared to express my opinions and concerns at this forum and exercise my freedom to speak according to the law," she said.
Wednesday's event comes amidst an ongoing legal battle between Stieng villagers from Kratie's Srae Char and Pi Tnou communes and developer CIV, who both claim ownership over 700 hectares of local farmland granted to CIV as an economic land concession.
Tim Narin, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said 19 land dispute cases have been reported province-wide since March, adding that no cases involving private companies have yet been resolved.
She mentioned another recent case involving 350 villagers from Chang Krang commune in Kratie district who allege rubber company Harmony Plantations destroyed five cemeteries while clearing community land for a rubber plantation.
I am very glad that ethnic minorities are now brave enough to express their opinion.
During Wednesday's forum, minorities spoke out against the granting of economic land concessions in Kratie. But Snoul district Governor Iv Saphum said that while minority communities were eager to speak their mind, many of them had little understanding about the government's scheme for granting economic land concessions.
"I am very glad that ethnic minorities are now brave enough to express their opinions at the forum, but they seem not to understand much about the law, and their questions are mainly focused on government economic land concessions that impact their communities' land," he said, adding that requests to halt the granting of concessions were "not acceptable".