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Jarai battle for communal titles takes important step

Ethnic Jarai villagers affected by land disputes gather in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadav district.
Ethnic Jarai villagers affected by land disputes gather in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadav district. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Jarai battle for communal titles takes important step

Their work is far from over, but Jarai minority villagers in Ratanakkiri province took another important step forward yesterday in their quest for communal land titles.

More than 200 residents of O’Yadav district’s Pate commune signed declarations outlining the ways in which they make use of land in Korng Yu village.

It’s information that was submitted to authorities who will now consider the villagers’ bid for communal titles.

Tep Borin, a program manager for the NGO Indigenous Community Support Organisation, said villagers also agreed to certain government regulations regarding communal use of land.

“They decided to follow the rules related to using and sharing the land in their community in traditional ways,” he said.

But Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that even if titles were approved, it is unlikely there would be enough land left to give villagers as much as they are entitled to.

“The number of villagers is increasing, but the land is not. The government is giving it away as economic land concessions – the rich and powerful are grabbing it,” he said, adding they likely possessed 70 per cent of the area.

But O’Yadav District Governor Dork Sor believed there was enough land for villagers, adding they themselves had “sold many plots of land already”.

Either way, the Kingdom’s 24 indigenous groups – which are spread across 15 provinces and make up 1.2 per cent of the population – face enormous challenges, said NGO Forum executive director Chhith Sam Ath.

“Their livelihoods depend completely on access to natural resources and forests,” he said. “Yet their ability to achieve land title and economic security is increasingly being undermined.

“We must all work together to ensure that their rights are protected.”

To mark the 19th International Day of the World’s Indigenous People today, NGO Forum has issued a number of recommendations to the government asking it to protect the rights of its indigenous groups.

Recommendations include that the government enforce laws recognising the land rights of indigenous people, speed up communal land registrations and end forced evictions.

“Their livelihoods have become endangered by unchecked development as hy­dropower, mining developments and the impact of economic land concessions strip the forests and destroy their capacity to extract a living from the land,” Sam Ath said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHANE WORRELL

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