Fifty indigenous people in Mondulkiri province on March 15 stopped the clearing of forest land in Sokdom commune’s Laoka village, claiming that the site was reserved for collective land registration of the Bunong indigenous community. They said that clearing the land will result in the loss of natural resources on which they rely.
Phluk Phirom, a representative of the community, said she and 50 other members stopped two bulldozers that were clearing land to form boundaries for Villa Development, a local property developer.
She said the people stopped the operations because they were afraid the firm would encroach on the land that the Bunong were keeping for their own use. If cleared, about 1,000 resin trees would be lost. In addition, the land has been earmarked for the Bunong indigenous people to register as collective land, she said.
She stated that the same company had already built one development in Laoka village, destroying thousands of resin trees that the indigenous people relied on. As yet, no compensation has been paid.
“We keep resin trees, latex trees and mushrooms. When the season is right, we collect these resources to earn our livings. Resin trees are an exception, as we harvest resin every day. If the land is cleared we will not be able to find these precious things,” she said.
Kreung Tola, advisor to indigenous communities in Mondulkiri province, said on March 16 that the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment should set up a committee – in collaboration with local people – to ensure that land that was excavated would not impact the indigenous people unduly. If the resources were damaged, compensation based on market value should be paid.
“Companies should settle these disputes peacefully outside the court system. Developers should realise that it is not just their land, but that the resources should belong to all,” he said.
The Post could not find a source to contact Villa Development for comment on March 16, but Song Kheang, director of the Mondulkiri provincial Department of Forestry, said he had been monitoring the situation, and in fact, the land was being cleared to form boundaries for the company.
He said that the company was legally registered to invest in agriculture by planting rubber across an area of more than 700ha.
“They are just making clear boundaries for their land. It is a large rubber plantation, so they simply wanted to demark their land clearly before they began planting,” he said.
Keo Sopheak, the director of the Mondulkiri provincial Department of Environment, said on March 16 that the clearing fell under the jurisdiction of the agriculture department.
“It’s a matter for them, but we will monitor it to make sure the company has not accidentally encroached into the Phnom Prech Wildlife Sanctuary. Environmental officials have gone to inspect the site – I imagine they will return this evening, or if not, tomorrow morning,” he said.