Hundreds of Minority Villagers Seek M’kiri Governor’s Ouster

A group of 900 Bunong villagers are seeking the removal of the governor of Mondolkiri, complaining in a petition that was submitted to the government Monday that he does not respect the rights of ethnic minorities in the province.

Five representatives of the villagers traveled to Phnom Penh to submit the petition to the Ministry of Interior, the Council of Ministers and the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“Our complaint demands that government leaders remove the provincial governor, Eng Bunheang, from his position because he has stifled the rights of indigenous peoples, such as not allowing us to march to celebrate indigenous rights day,” said one of the representatives, 25-year-old Kroeung Tola.

Mr. Tola was referring to an incident in August in which hundreds of ethnic minorities were prevented from marching through Sen Monorom City, the provincial capital, to mark the U.N.’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Another representative, Krak Pouch, said the petitioners felt this violated their constitutional rights to free expression and assembly.

The complaint against Mr. Bunheang also said that since he took office in 2013, there had been a marked uptick in illegal logging and clearing of Bunong communities’ sacred forests.

“Since the governor took office, forestry crimes, such as illegal logging, and land disputes between indigenous minorities and economic land concessions and social land concessions have increased,” Mr. Tola said.

Reached for comment, Mr. Bunheang said he was busy in a meeting.

Sok Ratha, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, declined to comment on the governor, but said the situation for indigenous groups in Mondolkiri was regrettable.

“Indigenous people repeatedly suffer, and the forest has gone, and the land they cultivated has been lost,” he said.

“Indigenous people understand a lot,” he added. “They are more professional than the expert officials about the protection of forest. They are fed up.”

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