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Ethnic villagers ask government return land

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A woman and her children walk through a section of cleared community forest in Mondulkiri province. Heng Chivoan

Ethnic villagers ask government return land

Mondulkiri provincial ethnic community members on Friday demanded that the National Authority on Land Dispute Resolution return land they claim was taken from them by illegal settlers, as well as government departments.

The 1,255 community members handed a petition to the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction which said that on January 16, 2004, 102ha of land in Doh Kramom Mountain was reserved as a sacred place and ethnic minority cultural centre by a local government leader.

But with residents of other provinces entering the area, the land – located in Sokdum commune’s Doh Kramom Mountain village, Mondulkiri province – was illegally settled by the new arrivals.

On December 12, 2016, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts worked with the provincial authority and ethnic minority community members to solve the land dispute by giving a portion of the disputed cultural centre’s land to the alleged new arrivals, reducing its size from 102.27ha to 87.81ha.

While the minority group accepted this decision, they say land grabbing from their centre continues to happen. They claim that provincial authorities themselves are responsible, with government departments – including the Civil Service, Industry and Handicraft, and Mines and Energy – now taking land from the cultural centre.

The representative of the ethnic minority group, Ploek Phirum, told The Post that it was not acceptable for the provincial authority to take segments of their land for these departments.

“The provincial authorities should not cut the land of the cultural centre. We filed the petition to ask the minister, Chea Sophara, to mediate and withdraw the land from these institutions,” she said.

The claim stipulates that they do not want the original 102ha plot of land back, but want their 87.81ha plot agreed in 2016 to be guaranteed and protected.

Provincial Culture and Fine Arts Department director Sey Touch told The Post that his department was committed to protecting, preserving and promoting the culture and livelihood of ethnic Cambodian minority groups.

“I completely agree with their demand to clearly demarcate the centre’s land. The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts wants this action as well,” he said.

Provincial Mines and Energy Director San Darith told The Post that his department had filed a request for land in the disputed area to build a laboratory, but they were yet to receive it.

“If the administration of the provincial hall offers our department the land, we will take it to build an office and laboratory, but if the provincial authority does not offer it, our department will not demand it,” he said.

Provincial Industry and Handicraft Department Director Pov Sotheara told The Post that the provincial hall offered his department a plot of land in the disputed area in 2012 to build an office.

“The land at Doh Kramom Mountain belongs to the state and our department has requested it to build an administration building,” Sotheara said.

Sotheara added that his department does not oppose the ethnic villagers receiving some of their land back as requested, but they do not believe it all should be withdrawn from government departments.

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