Villagers in Mondulkiri province are protesting the construction of a Ministry of Mines vocational training centre on a piece of land they say is sacred with cultural significance to people across the province.
About 50 villagers from four districts surrounding the Dos Kramom mountain near Sen Monorom town on Friday stopped heavy machinery from clearing the land to make way for the centre, which will offer mining industry training.
Kreung Tola, a community representative, said villagers from ethnic minorities, including the Phnong, had built four shrines over 10 hectares on the mountain for their ancestral spirits. The area was also a popular tourist site, Tola added.
“The villagers disagree with the construction of the building because it will destroy our ethnic identity and ancestral spirits,” he said.
He said the villagers had asked the local authorities to find a different location for the training centre, adding that similar protests five years ago had thwarted construction of a bottled water factory at the same location.
Following the protest, local authorities organised a meeting with villagers, but a solution could not be reached, said Sun Darith, provincial director for the Department of Mines and Energy.
Darith said the land was state property and had been given to the department by the provincial government, adding that the centre was being built with a Chinese loan.
He said the project, which includes a training centre, laboratory and dormitories, was originally slated for Ratanakkiri province and was shifted to Mondulkiri to improve the human resource capacity of the locals.
“[The locals] do not allow us, but let karaoke bars and private ownership at the mountain,” he said. “This will be the biggest university in the province.”
Ministry of Mines and Energy spokesman Meng Saktheara said the province was expected to have a boom in large-scale mining, and the centre would help funnel trained professionals to the sector.
Saktheara said the project was still in the planning stage and that there was no budgetary allocation for the project yet, with the provincial department only demarcating the land with poles and fencing.
“The land is very close to the mountain that is considered sacred by the locals,” Saktheara said. “The problem is that locals were concerned that any construction near the mountain will affect the spirituality of the area.”
He said that local authorities would try to find an amicable solution, but were still adamant they would consider moving the centre’s location.
“It’s not a problem, if necessary we will relocate. But we were building it there to benefit the locals,” he added.