Authorities in Mondolkiri province prevented hundreds of ethnic minority members from marching through Sen Monorom City to mark International Day of the World’s Indigenous People on Saturday, claiming it would confuse tourists. Marches elsewhere were allowed to go ahead.
Doung Pen said Sunday that he was one of about 700 indigenous Bunong who gathered in Sen Monorom Saturday hoping to march through the city to spread awareness of their group. He denied having any plans to turn the march into a demonstration against the industrial plantations in the province, which the Bunong accuse of stealing much of their ancestral lands.
“We did not want to march to demonstrate. We just wanted people to know we are minority people. But the authorities did not let us do it,” he said.
Deputy provincial governor Yim Luch confirmed that the group was not allowed to march and defended the decision on the grounds that tourists might mistake the walk for a demonstration.
“We were not worried that the march would lead to violence, but we were afraid the tourists would misunderstand and think the march was a demonstration to protest against authorities,” he said.
Barred from marching, the group nonetheless aired its complaints at an event organized by several NGOs at the site of the city’s old airport, where they accused the industrial plantations around them of stealing their farms, illegally logging their sacred forests and threatening their traditional way of life.
Pheap Sochea, president of the Cambodia Indigenous Youth Association, said his NGO also helped organized events in the provinces of Kompong Speu, Kompong Thom, Preah Vihear, Stung Treng and Ratanakkiri.
Tek Vannara, executive director of the NGO Forum, said his group organized a march of about 1,100 indigenous people through Kratie province’s Kratie City to urge the government to do more to respect the rights of minority groups and speed up the titling of their land.
“We chose Kratie for the celebration because the province has 14 ethnic minorities, more than any other province in the country,” Mr. Vannara said.