Five Bunong indigenous people were summoned by Mondulkiri provincial police to testify on May 3 about a minor criminal complaint filed by a citizen who claimed the accused had built illegal structures on private property.
The summons issued on April 30 identified the five as Roeung Heng, Nel Rith, Kwan Tai, Khvev Sreab and Ming Vikleuy, all residing in Poulong village in Sen Monorom town’s Romnea commune.
Provincial deputy police chief So Sovann told The Post on May 2 that the summons was based on a complaint by another party, who claimed to own a 2.5ha plot of land in Pulong village.
He said the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the individuals for occupying the land and building structures on the land in March.
“We summoned them [Bunong] here to ask if they had built structures on the land. According to the complaint, they built three halls and if the land is not theirs, we want them to stop construction. But obviously it depends on their clarification,” he said.
However, he did not identify the plaintiff sand who claimed to be the landowners, stating only that the plaintiffs had land transaction documents and land title from authorities.
Roeung Heng, one of the individuals summoned by authorities, told The Post on May 2 that the charges against the five were unfair because all citizens were just behaving according to their beliefs on land that indigenous communities have celebrated on for many years.
She said the 2.5ha of land is on Rodang mountain, a place of religious beliefs for the Bunong who often go there to worship.
She said the structures on the mountain are just part of how community members celebrate their faith. There are many religious sites on the mountain.
“The person who bought this mountain wants to divide it into two, which is not possible because this mountain is our place of faith where we have various religious ceremonies. We want to keep our traditions from being invaded due to conspiracy and clearing,” she said.
According to Heng, on May 3 the five people will testify before the authorities, hoping that this will serve justice to the community, and the perpetrators who stole the mountain will be punished according to the law.
Kroeung Tola, a consultant for the Mondulkiri Indigenous People Network, said the summons were in accordance with the law.
But he suggested that judicial police officers support the people who protect state property.
“The authorities should study the history of this mountain, because it is part of the beliefs of the local people, and those who took this mountain know it is a place of faith, but they still violate it.
“Therefore, the authorities should summon those who sell the land and punish them in accordance with the law,” he said.
Tola said that for this case, the perpetrators should face justice while the people who protect state property should receive legal protection.