Three ethnic minority communities in Mondolkiri province’s Pech Chreada district are drafting a petition to send to provincial authorities in an attempt to resolve a land dispute in which part of their communal land has been granted to other communities and private landowners.
In June, officials from the three ethnic communities of Pulu, Lames and Puochar in Bosra commune—better known as villages 5, 6 and 7—submitted documents with the Ministry of Land Management’s cadastral department in order to apply for a 10,000-hectare communal land title designed to protect their ancestral lands and register 350 Bunong families as the rightful owners.
But the area overlaps with previously granted concessions, which has put the Bunong families into dispute with private concessionaires, said Em Sopheak, provincial coordinator for the Community Legal Education Center.
“Some 1,000 hectares of the requested [communal] land is overlapping with a government social land concession, while a few thousand more hectares are under private-title holders,” he said. “This has complicated the [communal] land situation in Bosra since it is in dispute with these concession companies and private-title holders.”
The Bunong communities in Bosra have been struggling for years to protect their ancestral land from two rubber companies and it was hoped that the mapping process, which was paid for by the local Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, would finally secure the land to help preserve the minority’s traditions and identity.
Khut Chanra, deputy community chief in Village 7, said that leaders of the three communities are collecting villagers’ thumbprints to press provincial authorities into solve the dispute.
“Our ancestral land areas, rotational farmland as well as our community forests have been illegally logged and cleared for land encroachment…. We need to meet with the provincial authorities as soon as possible because if the dispute lasts for a long time, our ethnic Bunong minority here will lose more valuable forest,” he said.
Bosra commune chief Yoeuth Sarin confirmed that a 4,200-hectare social land concession was approved by the government in 2010 as a reservation area for landless people, of which 1,000 hectares overlaps with the land requested for communal titles.
Mr. Sarin said it was beyond his power to decide whether the overlapping portion of that land would be granted to Bunong communities to register as communal titles.
However, provincial council president Nharang Chan said that he did not regard the overlapping land issue to be a big deal as some of the ethnic families have also registered their names inside the social land concession.
“Some ethnic minority families have also registered their names for the social land concession, so the overlapping issue will be smoothly solved,” he said.
Only five communal titles have so far been granted since they were established by the 2001 Land Law with the goal of protecting the country’s minorities from outside developers.