Pech Chreada District, Mondolkiri province – An ethnic Bunong community suspended its protests against the destruction of their ancestral land here on Thursday after receiving assurances from provincial authorities that the issue would be resolved following the Pchum Ben holiday.
Residents of seven villages in Bosra commune had planned to stage 15 straight days of demonstrations in front of the Pech Chreada district office, demanding that authorities respond to 12 points related to the loss of the land where they have been living and farming for generations.
Among their grievances is the relocation of 69 Cham Muslim families, who since 2008 have been living on a 2,400-hectare social land concession in the area, and who have been leveling Bunong forest land and destroying ancient burial grounds.
The community is also angry about a number of rubber concessions encroaching on their territory, one of which employs a soldier who earlier this month wounded a Bunong trapper when he fired his AK-47 assault rifle in his direction.
Sroeunh Tek, the father of the injured man, said he and the other protesters had decided to give authorities a break from their demonstrations, which began on Monday, after provincial officials vowed to resolve the issues as soon as the Pchum Ben festival concludes on Wednesday.
“We suspended the protest for a while because provincial authorities promised to find a solution after the Pchum Ben holiday,” Mr. Tek said.
But on Thursday, deputy provincial governor Svay Sam Eang said no guarantees had been made.
“We did not promise those villagers. We told them that we will try, but we can not find a solution immediately,” he said. “Some problems we can solve, some we cannot, as they are decisions for the national level.”
Mr. Tek, though, said a break from protesting would also give his family a chance to celebrate the Pchum Ben holiday, though not in the way that most Cambodians do, as his family is Christian.
“Most Bunong people do not go to the pagoda during Pchum Ben because they do not hold those Buddhist beliefs,“ he said.
Roeun Heng, a 29-year-old Bunong woman who recently moved from Bosra to Sen Monorom City for an internship at the provincial information department, said about 40 percent of Bunong people would celebrate Pchum Ben in the traditional Buddhist way.
“But the rest will not go to the pagoda because they don’t know the meaning of Pchum Ben.”