Ministry Unveils Development Plan for Embattled Hill Tribes

The Ministry of Rural Development Thursday outlined its long-term development plans to help indigenous hill tribe members in the Northeast who have lost their land and livelihoods through rapid development, an official said.

“The indigenous people are being very marginalized,” said Minister of Rural Devel­opment Ly Thuch. “We need to protect their rights because they are the victims of logging activities and illegal fishing practices.”

According to Ly Thuch, who addressed government, UN and NGO officials Thursday at a national workshop on Cambodia’s indigenous people, the hill tribes in Ratanakkiri, Mondolkiri, Preah Vihear and Stung Treng provinces have lost large tracts of land to local and international investors in the timber and coffee industries.

This has also affected the hill tribe’s access to food since many rely on slash-and-burn agricultural practices, he said.

Ly Thuch said Thursday that the government recently formed the Department of Ethnic Minorities Development, under the Ministry of Rural Development, to research cultural traditions of the hill tribes and to provide training for development workers who work with the hill tribes.

“We are developing a legal framework for the hill tribe’s member’s rights,” he said.

There are more than 112,000 indigenous people in the four Northeastern provinces, with the highest concentration in Stung Treng and Mondolkiri, according to the Ministry of Rural Development.

In the past the Ministry of Rural Devel­opment has implemented various programs in the Northeast to encourage local leaders to discuss problems within the villages with the government.

The issue of hill tribe land rights was raised last week when Prime Minister Hun Sen settled a long-running land dispute between Ratanakkiri hill tribe members and an RCAF general who was accused of trying to take 1,250 hectares of land from them.

In that case, the Jarai and Tampuan hill tribe members accused General Noun Phea in 1999 of tricking people into signing over their land to him or falsifying 240 land titles showing he was the legal owner. The Ratanakkiri provincial court first ruled against the indigenous people. Although the appeals court of Phnom Penh heard the case on March 25, it made no decision in the matter.

Hun Sen on March 25 ordered that Noun Phea be compensated $35,000 for the land and ordered his Cabinet to draft letters to the ethnic minorities showing that they were the rightful owners of the land.


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