Alleged Threats Mar UN’s Indigenous Holiday

Officials in Mondolkiri province on Tuesday denied allegations that they had threatened to arrest participants in a march planned to mark International Day of the World’s Indigenous People.

The claims and counterclaims came two years after authorities blocked some 700 ethnic Bunong villagers from marching through Sen Monorom City to mark the U.N.-sponsored holiday for fear that tourists might confuse the event for a protest.

On Monday, representatives of 10 Bunong communities in Mondolkiri filed a complaint with rights group Adhoc accusing two government officials of threatening them with arrest if they proceeded with their commemoration plans, said Eang Mengly, the organization’s provincial investigator.

“The 10 representatives came to my office and filed a complaint against the Koh Nhek district governor and the provincial rural development department director because they threatened to arrest people and put them in prison if they celebrated the event,” Mr. Mengly said.

Villagers had planned the parade to draw attention to their rights as indigenous Cambodians, to call for an end to discrimination against minority groups and to request government intervention in land disputes that have cropped up as larges swathes of provincial forestland are turned into agribusiness plantations, he said.

“The people canceled the march because they received a threat from the Koh Nhek district governor” Moeul Soeun, Mr. Mengly said. “The provincial rural development department director, Yun Sarom, ordered the five district governors to arrest people if they celebrated the event.”

Kroeung Tola, who joined the complaint, said the rural development department had gone back on a promise to support Tuesday’s event.

“Our minority people celebrated with small events at their homes instead of marching,” he said, adding that participants played music and slaughtered pigs and chickens to honor their ancestors.

Contacted on Tuesday, Mr. Sarom, the rural development director, confirmed that organizers had not obtained permission to march, but denied threatening arrests.

“We banned people from staging the event…because they [often] march and protest against the government over land issues,” he said, adding that the government planned to hold its own event to mark Indigenous People Day sometime next week.

Mr. Sarom also accused Adhoc of routinely “inciting” locals, and said the claims that officials had threatened arrests were yet another example.

“I am not happy with Adhoc because they incite minority people to protest against authorities, especially on land issues,” he said. “I will file a complaint against Adhoc and the 10 representatives because this is incitement.”

Mr. Soeun, the district governor, said Mr. Sarom had not instructed him to make arrests—as noted in the complaint to Adhoc—but stated that the planned march would have been quashed for lack of authorization.

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