The O’Krieng Senchey district administration in Kratie province have ordered the Sre Chis commune authorities to educate minority ethnic groups about the laws and legal instruments related to environmental protection.

The instructions follow a recent incident where frustrated villagers set fire to an environmental office in the commune’s Sre Chis village.

District governor Chhea Phally told The Post on August 21 that he had tasked the commune authorities who are closest to the villagers to visit them in person and explain the environmental protection laws to them, so that they will have a deeper understanding. He said that the burning of the offices may have been caused by a lack of understanding as to how the laws protect their interests.

“The Kraol ethic minority group previously worked in the fields, and do not understand some of the laws that have been introduced. They became frustrated that some of their traditional practices were affected. We need to explain to them that the current laws are in place to protect the environment, wildlife and all of the other natural resources in the sanctuary,” he said.

He added that he believed a peaceful resolution could be achieved if a reasonable explanation was offered to the group, and that harsh measures were unnecessary. He believed the matter requires understanding and patience from the Ministry of Environment, which has demanded and received an apology from the villagers.

“The important thing is to communicate with them. The ministry has accepted that this was the result of a misunderstanding, and accepted their apology. It would be difficult to be too harsh with them, as they do not speak Khmer, and it is hard to fully explain the nuances of the law to them in the Kraol language,” he concluded.

Commune chief Pich Toch told The Post that he had led a working group to explain the law to the residents of two villages – Sre Chis and Rovieng – on August 21. Following the explanation, the villagers agreed to issue a public apology, with 300 individuals thumb-printing the letter and acknowledging their mistakes.

“While they agreed to apologise, it is possible that they may not consent to the reconstruction of the office,” he added.

Rights group ADHOC’s Kratie coordinating officer Thim Horn noted that if the environment office serves the interests of the people, then the villagers would agree to it being rebuilt. On the other hand, if they believe it does not, they may object to its reconstruction.

Kratie provincial environment department director Chhay Duong Savuth said the villagers had the right to their opinions, but the final decision would rest on the leadership of the ministry, as the government created the protected area to preserve it, for the residents and all other people in the country.

“If they think there should not be an office there, that is their business. However, it is not at their discretion. We did not build the office arbitrarily; we built it to protect state land,” he explained.

He noted that he had not yet received the public apology, but upon its receipt, he would forward it to the leaders of the ministry.