ETHNIC minority representatives from across the country gathered in Mondulkiri province this week to discuss their concerns about the loss of land to economic land concessions granted by the government.
The meeting, which ran from Monday through Wednesday, took place in Pech Chreada district’s Bousraa commune, the site of a simmering dispute between ethnic Phnong villagers and Socfin KCD, a French rubber company.
Pen Bonnar, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said the three-day meeting was attended by representatives from 40 ethnic minority communities affected by economic land concessions.
“The people will be given lectures on land law and human rights law. They will be taught how to advocate when their land is affected by development,” he said prior to the meeting, adding that the itinerary was set to include a field visit to land in Bousraa commune that is at the centre of the dispute with Socfin KCD.
Chhay Thy, Mondulkiri provincial monitor for Adhoc, said economic land concessions granted to private companies for the development of agricultural or mining projects have had a particularly strong impact on the country’s ethnic minority groups.
Kob Neth, 40, a Phnong representative from Bousraa, said that about 800 families are set to lose their communal farmland to concessions granted to Socfin and a Vietnamese firm.
“18,000 hectares of spirit forests, rotational farmland and burial lands of our ethnic people have been cleared,” she said.
Ty Sokun, director general of the Forestry Administration, on Wednesday defended the government’s record on land concessions.
“Forest land is state land, and when we give away land concessions to companies, we discuss it with relevant officials and villagers,” he said.
He said that, in many cases, land that had been included as part of concessions was not being used at the time the concessions were granted.
He added, though, that his staff will investigate any complaints they receive about land disputes affecting minority communities.