The U.N.’s human rights representative in Cambodia visited ethnic Bunong villagers in Mondolkiri province this week, days after local authorities prevented hundreds of them from marching to mark International Day of the World’s Indigenous People.
Wan-Hea Lee met with villagers in Pech Chreada district’s Bosra commune Tuesday to hear their complaints about deforestation and their disputes with private plantations they accuse of encroaching on their ancestral land, local resident Plang Sim said.
“Ms. Lee asked me what difficulties we face at present and I told her that we risk losing our community land and deforestation after Socfin rubber firm received an economic land concession,” said Mr. Sim, referring to Socfin-KCD, a rubber company accused by rights groups of pressuring villagers into selling their land.
Doung Pen, from Sen Monorom City’s Sokdum commune, said he met with Ms. Lee on Monday and raised a land dispute his community was having with the Villa Development Company. Provincial deputy governor Yim Luch has confirmed that his wife is the firm’s director general.
“The company received an economic land concession for a rubber plantation in Pech Chreada district and logged the healthy forest around the concession,” Mr. Pen said.
Ms. Lee said she told villagers that the U.N. would continue monitoring the situation. “If and when the Bunong formally launch their complaints with the courts, [the U.N.] will follow their cases carefully,” she said. “In the meantime, it will continue to advocate for the Bunong to be able to exercise their fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.”
Authorities stopped the Bunong villagers from marching through Sen Monorom to mark International Day of the World’s Indigenous People on Saturday, claiming it would “confuse” tourists.
Mr. Lee said she was dubious of the reasoning.
“Our position is that there should be a right to peaceful assembly,” she said. “I haven’t seen the official reasoning, but if there was a justifiable reason for banning the march I haven’t seen it yet.”