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M’kiri indigenous rally blocked

Indigenous villagers celebrate International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples yesterday morning in Mondulkiri’s Pech Chreada district before authorities stopped the event.
Indigenous villagers celebrate International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples yesterday morning in Mondulkiri’s Pech Chreada district before authorities stopped the event. Photo supplied

M’kiri indigenous rally blocked

Hundreds of indigenous peoples in Mondulkiri are planning to lodge a complaint with the National Assembly and relevant ministries to demand the ouster of the provincial governor after authorities yesterday pre-emptively shut down celebrations in honour of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Around 700 members of the Phnong ethnic group in Pou Chrei commune’s Puo Tang village, in Mondulkiri’s Pech Chreada district, slaughtered chickens, pigs and a buffalo in a ritual yesterday.

But when community members had attempted to set up a venue for celebrations on Saturday, police officers and military personnel stepped in, saying that they did not have permission to carry out their planned activities.

“The Pou Chrei police chief followed the provincial governor’s order, which didn’t allow us to set up the camp,” said community representative Kreung Tola.

“He said if we keep setting it up or [try to] march, they will order authorities to arrest me as the representative.”

Community members said that the ceremony as planned would have lasted around 10 hours and included a parade, an exhibition and traditional performances.

However, they were forced to commemorate the event outside for about three hours.

“We could not run the parade or exhibition because of the authorities’ interception and intimidation,” Tola said. “In the end, we celebrated under the rain and sun.”

According to Tola, the group had previously informed law enforcement about the events.

But authorities in the end demanded additional credentials, not accepting the previously issued paperwork.

“The community already followed procedure.

They sent information letters to all relevant departments,” said Yun Lorang, project coordinator for the Cambodian Indigenous Peoples Alliance, adding that last year’s celebrations in the province went ahead as planned.

Lorang said, however, that authorities had interfered in the day’s celebrations in two villages in Ratanakkiri, as well.

In response, members of the community have vowed to file a petition to force Mondulkiri Governor Eng Bunheang to step down.

“The people will file a lawsuit to the court against the governor and submit the petition to the National Assembly, ministries and the UN representative,” Tola said.

“If he does not step down, democracy in Mondulkiri will experience a drop.”

Sok Rath, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, considered the authorities’ actions to be intimidation and a violation of the community’s rights.

“Villagers were not violent; they did not speak about their land issues, but the authorities still banned them,” he said.

Governor Eng Bunheang could not reached for comment yesterday, while Deputy Provincial Governor Yim Luch and Pech Chreada District Governor Nuon Sarorn refused to comment.

However, King Seng, deputy director at the Mondulkiri rural development office, said that the government permits such celebrations, though formal documentation is needed rather than simply informing authorities.

Celebrations in other provinces such as Stung Treng, Koh Kong and Preah Vihear, meanwhile, were undisturbed.

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