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Mondulkiri families concerned for land as airport work begins

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A worker digs a trench in O’Raing district’s Sen Monorom commune in Mondulkiri province in preparation for the construction of a new provincial airport. Local familes claim the work is being carried out on private and conmunity land outside the boundaries designated for the airport. Photo supplied

Mondulkiri families concerned for land as airport work begins

Several families in O’Raing district’s Sen Monorom commune in Mondulkiri province express concern that they will lose their plantation and community burial land after seeing machinery arrive to excavate soil for the construction of an airport.

They say the excavation is taking place in a different location than that designated by the authorities and it had encroached on their land.

Saroeun Borath, 32, told The Post on Monday that on Sunday afternoon, a digger had begun excavating soil to a depth of approximately 1m.

He said the excavation went beyond the site demarcated by posts for the airport’s construction and encroached more than 1km onto their land.

Borath said the authorities did not discuss the matter with the villagers prior to beginning the work.

After the villagers came in large numbers to ask a digger operator to see documentation and enquire who had ordered the work to be carried out, he said, the operator moved to the correct location within the area marked by the boundary posts.

“I asked the village and commune chiefs about the excavation, and they said they were unaware of it. Then I asked the district governor and he said the location was intended to be used as a runway,” Borath said.

Borath said the land belongs to the community and one part is used for burials of the Bunong indigenous people and for herding cattle, while the rest is used as cashew nut and pepper plantations.

He said the soil excavation works affected some 40 residents’ land spanning approximately 100ha, and that on Monday, the residents held a gathering and agreed on two points.

Firstly, they requested the authorities to explain why soil had been excavated outside the proposed airport’s boundary posts and what they planned to do next. And, before any construction takes place, the residents unanimously agreed that discussions should be held with them first.

Secondly, they said, the community burial land be protected and no development of any kind is allowed there.

O’Raing district governor Siek Mony told The Post that the work was being carried out where airport infrastructure was slated to be built and it was not in the wrong location as the residents had claimed.

However, he said following the protest, the authorities had ordered a temporary halt to the excavation, pending a solution being found.

“I am addressing the issue with the residents and I am meeting with provincial-level authorities to resolve the dispute,” he said.

Resident Tap Khveurt, 50, said the excavation had encroached on 10ha of land near the boundary posts belonging to him and his five children.

He said the land, where he is currently growing cashew nuts and corn, was left to them by their ancestors.

A local official previously told The Post that a six-month feasibility study would begin in the second half of this year.

He said the airport would give foreign tourists a choice and cut travelling time to the province, which has rich potential for eco-tourism.