Provincial Officials Warn Foreign NGO Staff

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.

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