Tampuon minority villagers broke with tradition by burying a body away from traditional burial grounds Friday, giving in to the demands of provincial authorities who had barred all burials on contested land in Ratanakkiri province, officials said Sunday.
Village elder and spiritual leader Buo Nuth, 70, was buried 500 meters away from the 4-hectare plot that, the Tampuon claim, had served as their traditional burial ground since 1979, said Sul village chief Seng Thung.
Tampuon villagers decided to bury the body in the officially sanctioned graveyard after being barred by police from conducting a burial ceremony on the contested land, said Seng Thung, who also serves as CPP commune councilor in Banlung district’s Yeak Lom commune. Police had a warrant to arrest anyone who tried to bury the body on that land, Seng Thung added.
The villagers abandoned the fight for their burial grounds as they gave up hope of persuading local authorities to change their minds, he said.
“I am sad because my culture is losing, because we are losing our land,” Seng Thung said. “We cannot win over rich people.”
The Ratanakkiri Provincial Court issued the arrest warrant, maintaining that Mom Saroeun, director of the provincial finance department, had bought the land four years ago and holds the land’s title.
Mom Saroeun gave $250 for Buo Nuth’s family to buy pigs and wine to hold a ceremony informing spirits that the graveyard had been moved, Seng Thung said.
Banlung district governor Chhum Nhel said Sunday that Mom Saroeun also donated 100 kg of rice to the family. Chhum Nhel, who is Khmer, said that changing the location of the traditional burial site would not affect Tampuon culture because the villagers themselves were changing their way of life.
“They are selling their houses. In the culture before, the villagers never sold their houses. The culture is evolving,” said Chhum Nhel, adding that the case was closed.
Mom Saroeun declined to comment Sunday.