Land sales and land grabbing by the rich and powerful in Ratanakkiri province are progressively severing indigenous peoples from their lands and also from their ways of life, according to a report released Tuesday.
Since a 2004 review of Ratanakkiri, the NGO Forum on Cambodia has found that “land alienation,” or the destruction of cultural practice and the sense of powerlessness that result from the loss of land, is worsening in 30 percent of the province’s communes.
“The problem has already progressed to the point where some communities have disintegrated,” according to the 2006 report, “Land Alienation in Indigenous Minority Communities, Ratanakkiri Province, Cambodia.”
NGO Forum Executive Director Chhith Sam Ath told reporters that failing to stop land alienation could be taken as “a measure of a country’s commitment to human rights and to good governance.”
Bang Ngan, a coordinator for the Indigenous Community Support Organization, called on the government to stop private interests and individuals from taking ethnic minorities’ lands.
“If there is no intervention from the government, indigenous people will lose all their land and we will become slaves and workers for the companies,” he said.
Ratanakkiri provincial Governor Moung Poy said the report was groundless.
“The report is wrong,” he said, claiming that poor people were willingly selling their own land.
“There are no rich and powerful people who encroach on people’s lands,” he said. “The ethnic communities don’t know the Land Law. We have been educating them not to sell the land,” he added.
Community Forestry International Ratanakkiri Coordinator Graeme Brown, who helped compile the report, said Lom village, in Banlung district’s Yeak Lom commune, is one of several communities that have “dissolved” as villagers can no longer eke out a living.
The same fate awaits the rest of the province’s indigenous villages if this process isn’t stopped, he said.