Mondulkiri provincial Military Police have summoned three members of the Bunong indigenous community in Sokdum commune’s Laoka village of Sen Monorom town to appear on May 19 over accusations that they disregarded the court ruling and used violence and made death threats against a local property owner.
The trio claimed that they ignored the ruling because the court’s decision was unjust and a human rights violation.
The summons issued on May 2 by Ai Chamnap, head of the provincial Military Police’s department of investigation and suppression of crime, identified the three suspects as Phloek Phirum, Khveung Tum and Phloek Nary. It followed a complaint filed on March 21 by a 62-year-old Cambodian woman, Troeurng Yun, who now lives in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district.
The summons was issued with the approval of provincial court prosecutor Mam Vanda, allowing the judicial officers to open an investigation.
Phloek Phirum, a representative of the Dak Dam Bunong community and one of the three people named in the summons, said on May 11 that it was unjust because they were only trying to preserve state-owned forests, but instead become suspects while the wealthy people that conspired to buy state forest land are getting away with it.
“Every day, I spend time away from my children protecting public property of the state. And now I’ve been summoned by the authorities and they have threatened me with imprisonment,” she said.
“So, I ask myself – is this fair to me? To the person who protects forests that don’t belong to her every day? Who has spent her own money protecting the public forests owned by the state, the public land owned by the state? On the contrary, instead of being rewarded, I have been accused,” she asked rhetorically.
She added that the land problems began in 2019 when a property developer claimed that 70ha of forest land in the village belonged to him and he deployed machines to clear it and the local Bunong people had prohibited it because 30 indigenous families have relied on that land for their livelihoods since ancestral times.
“We won’t give it to them because we have relied on it since we were born and so have our ancestors before us and now our children also stay there. We tap trees for resin, collect honey from bees and other non-timber forest products and farm rice. If he takes it then what will we rely on for our livelihoods?” she said.
She added that the indigenous people used to ask the commune and town authorities to intervene and solve these problems, but they do not care to help and always side with the well-off.
She emphasised said they had also asked the authorities to facilitate the registration of the land since 2004, but they ignored them.
Then, when the Bunong protested against people who encroached upon their land, the authorities would turn around and accuse them of not having the titles to the land that they themselves have been illegitimately refusing to issue to the Bunong for nearly two decades, she said.
Kreung Tola, an adviser to the Bunong indigenous communities in Mondulkiri, said on May 11 that the summons was a form of intimidation and a violation of the rights of indigenous people.
“This purchase is of pure state-owned forest land. I do not know how they could possibly have bought it. That is a violation of the law and an infringement on the rights of indigenous people. And now [the buyer] is using the Military Police to intimidate these three individuals as well as the entire indigenous community in order to scare them away from protesting,” he said.
Sen Monorom town governor Hiek Sophan could not be reached for comment on May 11.
However, commune chief Pov Sophat said the land was legally sold because the indigenous people agreed to sell it and that there are documents on file to prove it.
“You want to know the truth, then come over in person. The authorities look for solutions but [the indigenous people] do not want to solve the problem and instead came to curse at [the buyers].
“Normally, if the indigenous people won’t sell land to them, then they can’t buy it. We understand what is going on and there is no need to wonder about it,” he said.