Representatives from seven Cambodian ethnic minorities expressed concern over land grabbing and the clearing of their forests by powerful people at the first ever seminar organized in the country to mark International Day of World Indigenous People on Tuesday.
About 100 villagers drawn from eight provinces joined the seminar with government and NGO representatives to discuss the issue.
“We are facing difficulties with the land and forests,” said Kea Soth, a Suoy minority villager from Kompong Speu province’s Aural district. “We are very worried because in the long term, the ethnic minorities will have no more land.”
Kea Soth said a Chinese company was working on villagers’ land in his area and he was worried that all the farmland would be taken.
“Nobody has solved the problems for us,” he said.
Sai Dai, a Steanh villager from Kompong Cham’s Memot district, alleged RCAF soldiers are clearing forest in his area used by the villagers.
“We don’t have any land left for the next generation of people,” he said, adding minority villagers are also not getting the education they need.
Hem Horn, a Por ethnic minority villager from Pursat province’s Kravanh district, said his fellow villagers are facing the same problems.
“We have less land and even education is less than for the Khmer people,” he said. “We are living with Khmers so there is chaos because of the lack of farmland.”
Yim Chhay Ly, secretary of state for rural development and the seminar’s chairman, said the government is solving the problem “step by step” by providing health services, schools and land for ethnic minorities.
But Sok Narin, a program officer for the UN Development Program, said ethnic minority villagers’ needs are not being addressed.
“It is true also that the indigenous peoples of Cambodia face significant challenges, and traditional difficulties in accessing health and education services have not been fully addressed,” he said.
Yin Sopheap, a project coordinator of the NGO Community Legal Education Center, said the country’s development should not destroy the ethnic minorities’ identities.