Hilltribes Paid by Gov’t in Spirit Forest Dispute

Six ethnic minority Phnong villages will be compensated some $500 each for a Chinese company’s encroachment upon their spirit forests and ancestral graveyards in Mondolkiri province, officials said Monday.

The ethnic minority villagers said they demanded the compensation during negotiations with the government and plan to use the money to buy animals to be sacrificed in religious rituals.

“It will be my personal budget and project,” said Nuth Sa An, In­terior Ministry secretary of state and head of an interministerial committee charged with resolving the dispute between the minority villagers and Wuzishan LS Group.

“[The compensation] is be­cause the Chinese company had planted on their spirit land and now they have reached their season to hold spirit rituals,” he said.

The villagers have been em­broil­ed in a dispute with Wuz­ishan for months, alleging the company plant­ed pine trees on their farmland and destroyed their ancestral sites.

Officials have said the company has planted on about 16,000 hec­tares of land in the province, in­cluding 7,000 hectares of land re­served for a proposed Japanese rubber plantation.

Nha Rang Chan, Mondolkiri’s third deputy governor, said he had proposed the amount to be paid villagers to Nuth Sa An three days ago.

“I asked him if he could afford to do it and he said: ‘No problem,’” Nha Rang Chan said. “It is for their daily living conditions because they don’t have rice to eat.”

Hor Phlil, a member of the Sen Monorom commune council in O’Reang district, said villagers de­manded the money and would have been upset if it was not paid.

Villagers in Sen Monorom commune in O’Reang district have also asked for ownership over three km of land around their commune while villagers in Dak Dam commune in Sen Monorom district have asked for 10 km to resolve their dispute.

No agreement has been finalized, officials said.


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