Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ministers review ethnic minority land rights, development

Ministers review ethnic minority land rights, development

Ministers review ethnic minority land rights, development

In a plenary meeting, the Council of Ministers also pushes for use of the term 'indigenous minority' rather than 'ethnic minority'

 MINORITY POLICIES

Policies designed to promote ethnic minority development were first put in place by the Ministry of Rural Development and the United Nations Development Program in 1994, but these did not address issues such as land rights.

TWO policies designed to improve the plight of the Kingdom's ethnic minorities were discussed Thursday at a plenary meeting of the Council of Ministers, Minister of Rural Development Chea Sophara told the Post Thursday.

During a meeting presided over by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, the council reviewed draft policies addressing development in areas heavily populated by ethnic minorities as well as land registration and land use rights for ethnic minorities, Chea Sophara said.  

Also Thursday, the council agreed to replace the term "ethnic minority" with "indigenous minority", Chea Sophara said.

The Department of Ethnic Minority Development at the Ministry of Rural Development estimated last December that 1.5 percent of Cambodia's population - around 220,000 people - is composed of highland minorities concentrated mostly in Ratanakkiri, Mondulkiri, Preah Vihear and Kratie provinces. The policies discussed Thursday would affect minorities in all provinces.   

According to a statement issued Thursday by the council, the development draft policy is designed in part to encourage ethnic minorities to produce more products while simultaneously preserving their cultural traditions and languages. It is also aimed at improving living standards among ethnic minorities and enhancing their ability to access formal education and vocational training.

Thousands of

hectares of ethnic

[minority-owned] land have been grabbed.

The policy pertaining to land registration and land use rights is similarly designed to contribute to poverty reduction and economic development, in part by ensuring that ethnic minorities can make use of the natural resources found on their land. In particular, the policy addresses land-grabbing, stating that forested areas in the possession of ethnic minorities "will not be taken by outsiders", according to the statement.
Pervasive landgrabbing

Pen Bonnar, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said Thursday that he approved of the draft policies. He said land ostensibly belonging to ethnic minority groups has been regularly claimed and exploited by "mostly powerful and rich people".

"Thousands of hectares of ethnic [minority-owned] land have been grabbed, especially forested land, which those people are now living off of," he said. He added that ethnic minorities are routinely threatened by local authorities working on behalf of those looking to take their land. 

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