Ten representatives of Banong ethnic villagers from five districts in Mondulkiri were questioned for more than an hour by police on Tuesday for their attempt to seek intervention from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet over the loss of sacred land to 11 families.
Kreung Tola, one of the representatives, said after he was released that they were in a van on the way to Phnom Penh in an attempt to petition the premier’s cabinet and other authorities, but 10 police officers stopped them at a checkpoint.
“The police checked the van and brought us in for questioning at the Keo Seima district police station for over an hour,” Tola said.
In December 2016, Secretary of State Thai Norak Satya at the Ministry of Culture met with the provincial authorities and the representatives of the indigenous community in an effort to find a solution to the land dispute near the Phnom Dos Kramom Mountain.
At the meeting, it was decided not to grant the 2,750 square metres of land to the 11 families because they “had no evidence it belonged to them”.
However, Nget Phan, a representative of the 11 families, submitted a letter rejecting that decision and asking for intervention from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts on January 11, 2018. Last month, the land was officially handed to each family by the local authorities.
Representative Tola added that at first he and his community wanted the provincial authorities to intervene but later they found they had no hope and headed to Phnom Penh.
“This is the state’s land and a sacred place which belongs to everyone, not to me alone,” Tola said.
Sun Bun Thoeun, Keo Sima district police chief, told The Post that the police only wanted to instruct the villagers to find a solution from the local authorities first before going to the national-level government. “We did not punish them and let them go home,” Bun Thoeun said.
Long Vibol, Senmonorom town governor, said they decided to give the land to the 11 families to ease their poor livelihoods. “Even though they had land, the authorities granted 5-by-50-metre plots to each family,” Governor Vibol said.
Svay Sam Eang, Mondulkiri provincial governor, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.