Indigenous ethnic minorities in Cambodia’s northeastern provinces are facing unprecedented changes as the country pushes toward development, according to a report released Tuesday.
And although the Constitution guarantees that ethnic minority populations have equal status with all Cambodian citizens, the government “does not appear to have an active policy toward ethnic minorities,” the report said.
“Highland people are a generally poor and undeserved population,” said Myles Elledge, team leader of the study, which focused on ethnic minorities living in Kratie, Mondulkiri, Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng provinces.
At a two-day workshop that ends today, those involved in the study and groups interested in ethnic minorities discussed the Cambodia report on the “Health and Education Needs of Ethnic Minorities in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region.”
The study was conducted by the Research Triangle Institute in the US state of North Carolina and funded by the Asian Development Bank. The Inter-Ministerial Committee for Highland People’s Development and the ministries of Rural Development, Education and Health also participated in putting together the report.
The ethnic population in the four northeastern provinces totals about 112,320, the report said. In Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri provinces, hill tribes make up the majority of the population, while indigenous people make up less than 10 percent of residents in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.
The report recommended the government form a comprehensive national ethnic minority policy and establish a plan to develop the disadvantaged areas in the nation’s northeast highland region.
The study also said authorities should consider the culture, traditional beliefs and other factors specific to the hill tribes when making decisions on health and education needs.
Minister of Rural Development Chhim Seak Leng said the government is trying to help the indigenous population, and noted the formation of the Department of the Development of Ethnic Minorities inside his ministry.
Historically, the government has tried to exploit and assimilate the indigenous population and their “plight has yet to be seriously addressed,” according to the study.