Ratanakkiri provincial officials have warned that foreign NGO staff members in the province may be told to leave Cambodia if they encourage ethnic minorities to oppose the government’s policy on granting large land concessions to private firms, NGO officials said Thursday.
Provincial Governor Kham Khoeun made the warning at a March 18 public meeting on provincial development attended by government and NGO officials in the provincial capital, Banlung, the NGO officials said on condition of anonymity.
NGOs were also warned that they could be ordered to move their entire programs out of the province if they encourage opposition to land concessions, they said.
Kham Khoeun could not be reached by telephone for comment Thursday. Yoeung Baloung, Ratanakkiri provincial police chief, declined comment on the issue.
Russell Peterson, NGO Forum representative, said that he was aware of the reported warnings to NGO workers in Ratanakkiri but that such organizations are not opposing government policy.
“The Cambodian Land Law entitles indigenous people to claim communal titles over their ancestral land,” Peterson said. “NGOs are working with the government to try and find peaceful solutions,” to land disputes, he said.
Tensions have been rising in Ratanakkiri between authorities and ethnic minority villagers, with villagers accusing authorities of acquiescing in land grabbing and corrupt land deals.
Villagers in Kong Youk village, Pate commune, in O’Yadaw district are calling for members of the commune council to be removed, accusing them of tricking them into selling communal land at an extremely low price, the district governor said Thursday.
The land, which is 500 hectares in size, was sold for $20,000 in 2004, equal to $0.004 per square meter, Heng Bunthan, O’Yadaw district governor said.
Each family was given $400 for land, he said.
“NGOs instigated them to protest,” Heng Bunthan said of the Pate villagers. “They sold [the land by themselves.”
O’Yadaw was the site of a separate standoff earlier this month between hundreds of minority villagers and provincial officials who were accompany representatives from a land concession company on a survey tour of the area.
Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator of the right group Adhoc, claimed the 500 hectares of land in Pate commune was bought by an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management.
Peterson said he had received reports that a burial forest used by indigenous people has also been sold as well as a minority village meeting house, both in Yeak Lom commune in Banlung district.
He did not have further details on the sale.
“Across Ratanakkiri, it appears many indigenous communities are very upset about what’s happening,” Peterson said.