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Villagers vow to ‘sacrifice lives’

Villagers vow to ‘sacrifice lives’

Some 100 ethnic Banong villagers from Sre Hoy commune’s Chhul and Chhong Pang villages in Mondulkiri province’s Koh Nhek district protested on Tuesday after Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary officials allegedly uprooted wooden posts used to demarcate their ancestral burial sites.

Ten Bunsam, 36, from Chhul village, told The Post on Tuesday that authorities had removed dozens of posts without reason. He said villagers started planting the posts only recently after some traders offered to buy their land at the sites.

“We don’t know why local and environment officials pulled out the posts. We’re worried because recently there were many strangers entering the sites asking to buy land from our community, but we declined,” Bunsam said.

Sroeun Kahe, 26, from Chhong Pang village, said the ancestral gravesites are located in the only remaining forest that the Banong ethnic community reserves for multi-purpose use.

“Besides forestry benefits, Banong ethnic villagers live, cultivate and raise animals on the land.

The ancestral grave land is our last hope, so we will not let anyone encroach on it anymore. We will sacrifice our lives to protect and preserve it for our next generations,” Kahe said.

The villagers said they were not aware of the ancestral land’s exact size and boundary, but it was less than 100ha, a figure commune chief Soy Chreb dismissed.

Ancestral grave land

Chreb said on Tuesday that their land, which was granted by the government as a social land concession for the community in 2003, is only 25ha.

He said the forest land on which the villagers planted the posts is located on the other side of the road.

“We support the protection and preservation of ancestral graveland, but what they are doing is encroaching on the Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary and state reserve land,” he said.

Prum Sovanna, who manages the Srepok wildlife sanctuary, said previously, some villagers sneaked in and built camps in the protected forest with the intention of illegally clearing the land. But they were stopped by rangers.

He said recently, some opportunists persuaded villagers to clear the forest and state reserve state land in Koh An Yeul. They promised to buy the land but the plan was intercepted by relevant authorities, with some arrested and sent to court.

“We support Chhul and Chhong Pang villagers’ protection and preservation of their ancestral grave land, but their actions are sometimes unlawful."

“They encroach on the wildlife sanctuary by planting posts marking their ancestral grave land there,” Sovanna said.

He said Srepok wildlife sanctuary officials are working with local authorities to mediate in the issue.

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