Minorities Seek Land Dispute March Approval

Local human rights group Adhoc has requested provincial approval to stage a large-scale march later this month involving hundreds of indigenous minorities embroiled in a land dispute in Ratanakkiri province.

The demonstration is being org­anized to bring attention to what mi­­nority villagers claim is judicial in­timidation in the province in matters related to land and forestry, ac­cor­ding to Pen Bonnar, provincial co­ord­ina­tor for Adhoc, which filed the re­quest on behalf of the villagers.

Roughly 1,000 indigenous villa­g­ers are hoping to take part in the 4-km march planned for March 19 in which they will also demand provincial authorities take action against illegal logging of luxury wood and ask for clarification over the ownership of 30,000 hectares of forestland, which villagers say has been il­legally encroached upon by agro-industry firm DM Group.

“Lately, many indigenous minority villagers, embroiled in three separate long-running land disputes, have been intimidated while being ques­tioned at court,” Mr. Bonnar said.

He added that the marchers plan to walk to a number of government institutions such as the provincial hall in Banlung, the forestry administration office, the courthouse and the provincial agricultural department.

At the end of the march, villagers will offer a public prayer to a well-known indigenous spirit, Yeay Boeng Kanseng, to curse all “bad people and companies involved” in the conflicts for their “ill intentions in grabbing villagers’ farmland and deforestation,” Mr. Bonnar said.

“The spirit is so powerful and strong, that is why people are planning to pray and curse [people] with it.”

Muth Sokhoeun, chief of the Rat­a­nakkiri provincial order and document office, confirmed that a proposal has been sent to governor Pav Horm Phan for him to review and consider granting ap­proval for the proposed march.

Tampuon villager Say Phorn, a rep­resentative in a dispute over 180 hectares of farmland and forest in Lum­phat district’s Seda commune, which villagers say has been illegally used by DM Group, said he was eager to participate in the march.

“I’m finding materials to celebrate and pray and curse anybody who has the ill intention to grab our land and forest,” he said of the planned ceremony on March 19.

 

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