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Minorities march in R'kiri

Minorities march in R'kiri

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Community representatives and indigenous rights groups say they hope to draw attention to land-grabbing and forest clearing on ancestral lands

Villagers at the protest Thursday in Ratanakkiri.

INDIGENOUS minority villagers marched in Ratanakkiri province Thursday morning, protesting the land-grabbing and illegal logging they say are threatening the traditions and livelihood of their communities.

Around 500 people from the province's various ethnic groups met at the office of local rights group Adhoc in the provincial capital Banlung, marching to Provincial Hall and the Forestry Administration Office to air their grievances.

"The goal of the land march is to stop land-grabbing, clearing state forestry land and anarchic illegal logging," said Chhay Thy, assistant to provincial Adhoc director Pen Bonnar.

About 1,000 people were expected to participate in this year's march - the third held since 2007 - but the turnout was less than expected due to heavy rain the day before.

"Today hundreds of people participated, but some people were not able to join due to the slippery roads caused by yesterday's storm," Chhay Thy said.

He added that provincial authorities had prevented two earlier attempts by Adhoc to organise a protest, on December 19 and May 23, when the protest was dispersed by authorities using fire hoses. But Interior Minister Sar Kheng granted permission for Thursday's protest in September, saying that "Provincial Hall has to cooperate and help to ensure safety, security and order to the peaceful land march".

Soeurn Veav, 36, a community representative from Patang village in Lumphat district, said between 50 and 100 people from his community participated in the march. "Many others in my community wanted to participate in the march, but they have no means of transport," he said.

"We march today to call on local authorities and officials to obey and implement the law, and not take bribes from rich and powerful people to grab community lands."

Vinn Sokhim, 25, a community representative from Toang Kraphu village in O'Chum district, said 70 people from his village took part because of a dispute with a rubber company.

"We participated today to get back 26 hectares of community land. The land was grabbed this year by powerful people for a rubber plantation," he said.

Ek Yothin, provincial program director for the Indigenous Community Support Organisation, said more than 3,000 hectares of land had been seized in Ratanakkiri since 2003 and he said he hoped the march would push the government towards ensuring the responsible management of natural resources.

"We heard a lot of news that after the election the government would take action on land-grabbing in Ratanakkiri, but in reality we did not see any," he said. "We hope that we will be able to change things little by little."

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