More than 100 members of the Banong ethnic minority held a ceremony in a Mondolkiri province forest on Monday to curse illegal loggers who dare to come to the area, and to ask forgiveness from forest spirits after private firms cleared nearby woodland, villagers said yesterday.
“The area where we held the ceremony is the last forest area that we can use as rotational farmland, as it has not yet been cleared by the companies,” villager Kop Neth said, adding that the ceremony was held in Pech Chreada district’s Busra commune.
Much of Busra’s forests and rotational farmland has been lost to land concessions granted by the government to the Khaou Chuly Group and French firm Socfina, Ms Neth said.
“The ceremony was not to put a curse on the companies, but just to curse illegal loggers who want to cut the trees,” she said. “We also held the ceremony to ask forgiveness from the spirits for clearance of spirit forests and burial ground by the concession companies.”
Ethnic minority residents from three villages in Busra commune have written to the commune chief asking for a total of 350 hectares of forested land for the continuation of rotational farming, Ms Neth said.
Busra commune chief Keng Nhak confirmed the villagers request, saying he has asked for approval from district and provincial authorities as the land they are requesting overlaps with a 4,000-hectare swathe of land granted to the Sethey Kola company, which is part of the Khaou Chuly Group.
“It overlaps with the economic concession area, which the government has granted to a rubber plantation company already,” Ms Nhak said.
Commenting on the villagers placing a curse on those who clear the forest, Mr Nhak said none of the concession firms had cleared the Banong’s forest burial grounds.
“Whether it was a curse or not, it is not illegal,” Mr Nhak said of the ceremony.
“But the villagers will suffer the curse themselves if they did [place a curse] because the firms are legal and never touched the burial grounds,” he said.