Meeting Eases Tensions Over Minorities’ Land

Tensions between Ratanakkiri provincial officials and NGOs in the lead up to a conference on ways to prevent the loss of ethnic mi­norities’ land appear to have eas­ed, officials said Tuesday on the se­cond day of the three-day meeting.

Last week, reports emerged that provincial officials had warned foreign NGO workers they could be forced to leave the province if they encouraged ethnic minority vil­­­lagers to oppose the government’s controversial land concession policies.

The officials accused the NGOs of inciting villagers in O’Yadaw district to protest against a proposed con­cession and against the alleged trick­ery used to purchase communal land for an extremely low price.

“The workshop itself resolved any tensions that may have existed,” Russell Peterson of the NGO Forum said by telephone from Ra­tanakkiri.

More than 250 government officials, NGO representatives and villagers participated in the meeting.

Government representatives at the meeting, which ends today, promised to take their own steps to stop the sale of land owned by ethnic mi­norities, Peterson said.

“Many of the promises were gen­eral in nature,” he said. “But this conference is just one step in the path.”

Dam Chanthy, president of the Highlander Association which represents the interests of the prov­ince’s ethnic minorities and was al­so threatened with closure, said the conference was planned following a land concession protest by villagers in Ten village, Yatung commune, O’Yadaw district .

She planned to take NGO representatives to the village on Thurs­day to discuss the protest and the re­­sults of the conference with village chiefs, she said.

Ratanakkiri Deputy Governor Bou Lam praised the forum.

“I think the seminar will bring good results because we brought the issue from the village to this table,” he said.

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