Villagers Demand Reparations for Sacred Hill Damage

The battle over a sacred hill in Mondolkiri province’s Pich Chre­ada district began one week ago.

Phnong minority villagers say that last Thursday a company began blasting a 5-by-10 meter hole in a sacred hill on Nam Lyr mountain, which they believe is the birthplace of their ancestors and which today is a site of pilgrimage and prayer.

“We demand that the company re­pair the damage, pay for jars of wine and buffalo to sacrifice for a ceremony to request pardon from our ancestors’ souls, and to stop the operation for good,” said Teb Buth­an, the chief of Bou Sra commune’s Kert village.

He said a man named Meung Sok was in charge of the blast site, but was not sure of the company’s name.

On Wednesday, representatives of 781 families from seven villages presented their demands to Bou Sra commune officials, Teb Buthan said, adding that villagers have been holding the company’s equipment, which now sits at the base of Nam Lyr, hostage since Monday.

If the company does not agree to villager demands, he said they would sell the equipment to buy the ceremonial wine and buffalo themselves.

Em Veasna, a coordinator for Human Rights Vigilance of Cam­bodia, said he feared things could get violent if the company does not meet villager demands. “They said they would take the matter into their own hands if compensation was not made,” he said.

After initial blasting began last Thursday, over 100 villagers pro­tested, and the company temporarily halted its operations, but it resumed blasting on Monday, sparking further protest, said Siem La, Bou Sra’s first deputy commune chief.

Siem La said commune police con­firmed that a hole had been blasted in the sacred hill, but claim­ed the company had a license from the Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Energy, as well as permission from provincial authorities.

Mondolkiri Deputy Governor Nha Raing Chan said provincial authorities had not granted such permission.

Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Energy Secretary of State Chea Sieng Hong said the ministry had never granted a license for removing rock from the sacred site. He said a company had re­ceived a license to build a resort nearby, but he did not know the name of the company.

Paul Cham Co has a license to explore for granite on Nam Lyr mountain, but it has not been working near the sacred hill, said Nuon Phea, an assistant to the company’s president, Nguyen Thi Cham.

He said the company had been paying an annual concession fee of more than $2,000 for the last two years. “My company has not done any drilling to take rock,” he said, adding that work was still in an exploratory phase.



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