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Sacred beats secular in showdown over Mondulkiri land

An excavator clears land near a sacred community site in Mondulkiri last month for a planned mine and oil educational centre. Adhoc
An excavator clears land near a sacred community site in Mondulkiri last month for a planned mine and oil educational centre. Adhoc

Sacred beats secular in showdown over Mondulkiri land

Authorities in Mondulkiri have abandoned plans to construct a Ministry of Mines vocational training centre on land near the provincial capital of Sen Monorom deemed sacred by local villagers.

The ministry had demarcated about 6 hectares of land close to Dos Kramom Mountain for the project, leading to a protest two weeks ago from ethnic Phnong, Kroul and Stieng, who said it endangered four shrines built for their ancestral spirits.

Following the pushback from villagers, local officials have agreed to look for a new location in the province, failing which it will be shifted to a previously mooted location in Ratanakkiri, provincial hall director Hak Sophan said yesterday.

“I am not sure when we will find a new location,” he said. “The benefit [of the centre] was for the people in Mondulkiri province, where we could train their children.”

Srouy Ket, a Phnong villager, agreed that the centre would have helped train people, but said potential damage to their sacred sites made choosing another location a necessity. “We are afraid the spirits might leave this place and lose its spirituality,” said Ket, adding that the centre would also lessen the mountain’s tourist appeal.

Ministry spokesman Meng Saktheara said the site was ideal given its proximity to the city, and that other locations could complicate matters in terms of logistics and access to utilities.

Additional reporting by Ananth Baliga

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