Bunong indigenous residents in Dak Dam commune in Mondulkiri province’s O’Raing district have accused the authorities of ignoring the clearing of community forest land at Chrey Thom waterfall resort and a local cemetery despite repeated complaints since 2017.
Chrot Khloeut, a resident of Dak Dam commune’s Pou Les village, told The Post on Monday that the cemetery and waterfall resort cover 328ha of forest land in Pou Les, Pou Treng and Pou Chhorb villages.
He said people from different provinces had come to clear the land for private ownership since 2017 and that it was continuing to this day.
Authorities have failed to tackle the problem, Khloeut said, even though residents have made several complaints to the provincial hall and even protested.
He said that originally when people came to clear the land, they persuaded the local authorities to issue a letter recognising their private ownership, despite indigenous residents having used part of the public land as a cemetery since 1979 and the waterfall resort being recognised by the provincial hall in 2016.
“We are not trying to claim private ownership of the land. It belongs to the state, but they don’t listen. They say we want to grab the land. If you look through the global positioning system, over 4ha of the waterfall land and 1ha of the cemetery has been taken,” Khloeut said.
However, provincial hall spokesperson Sok Sera said the provincial hall had not received any complaints and suggested that perhaps they had only been filed at O’Raing district.
“I did not see the complaints at the provincial hall. I am unaware of them. When we receive complaints, the provincial hall does not stay quiet, it always goes to inspect the site and address the matter accordingly,” he said.
Indigenous resident Boret Kampi said many indigenous residents had filed complaints to the provincial hall since 2017 after four or five families from different provinces came to clear the community land.
He said the residents had also frequently made enquires to find out what action has been taken in response.
Kampi said that he later discovered that the provincial hall had endorsed the complaints and sent them to the district hall to deal with.
District hall officials, he said, had come to inspect the land, but no measures were taken to solve the situation.
On Friday, Kampi said, some 80 residents had gathered to protest again to stop the ongoing land clearance and reclaim the lost land but to no avail.
“Officials from the district hall have come here a few times, but weren’t able to resolve anything – and the provincial hall says there were no complaints whatsoever. I wonder why?” he said.
O’Raing district governor Nong Tunnary denied that the authorities had ignored the land disputes and said the authorities had solved some already, but the indigenous residents remained dissatisfied.
He declined to say who was right or wrong – because both sides have documents certified by former and current authorities – but said he would strive to get to the root of the problem so it can be solved.
“We cannot solve it exactly as they want. We are doing it step by step. We have asked the involved parties to put a stop to any activity on the disputed land. We are not ignoring them. They say we don’t care, but in fact, we have cared enough to have already made compromises many times,” Tunnary said.
Eang Mengly, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, wondered why the former authorities had issued a letter certifying the community land as privately owned, when he said that, on behalf of the local authorities, they have the right to revoke any land belonging to the state.
“In the past, the authorities seem to have pushed the matter back and forth – they don’t seem to have any intention of solving it at all. From my point of view, they are avoiding addressing the case,” he said.