Fifty-three Bunong indigenous families in Kbal Romeas commune Stung Treng province’s Sesan district have accused a company of illegally setting up boundary poles for a plantation and encroaching on community land, an accusation the provincial authorities have denied.
Srang Lanh, a representative for the 53 families in Kbal Romeas village, told The Post that the firm, Siv Guek Investment, had set up a fence on villagers’ land, claiming they were wrongfully occupying its property.
“Siv Guek Investment has set up poles in the centre of our village without a consensus. They have violated our indigenous community and we will not leave this place,” she said.
She said the Bunong have been living and cultivating the area for many years and had preserved their indigenous culture, spiritual forest, and ancestral burial sites.
According to Lanh, the government declared the location as the lowest part of the Lower Sesan 2 Dam project in 2014, but only recently said the area had been allocated to the company.
She called on the government to return the land to the Bunong for them to cultivate and to preserve their culture in the area.
Siv Guek Investment could not be reached for comment.
But provincial hall spokesman Men Kong has rejected the indigenous community claims, saying the company had followed proper procedures in constructing the fence.
He said the indigenous community had prepared its own map covering nearly 8,000ha of community land, covering not only the company’s land but also other private property. Kong said he would try to resolve the dispute.
“We have been negotiating with the community several times since January. But they are demanding almost 8,000ha, while the land that we are allowed to register for these 53 families is a little more than 900ha,” he said.
Bey Vanny, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the Bunong had been affected by the Lower Sesan 2 Dam project, but they did not move to the area allocated by the government.
“This ethnic community refuses to move because they want to preserve their culture. If they go to a new place, the government will not preserve their culture. At a new place, they have to live a new way of life, not a traditional one. So they refused to leave and are only willing to stay in that area where they have inherited cultural heritage from their ancestors,” he said.
Vanny called on the government to allow the Bunong to keep the land in order for them to preserve their traditions that the world has come to recognise and protect.