Villagers Make Ancestral Claims on Forest Land

Mondolkiri province villagers have lodged complaints with the government’s human rights commission accusing local officials of preventing them from living on 300 hectares of land the villagers claim to own, officials said.

In a Sept 20 letter to the commission and NGOs, the villagers accused provincial and Forestry Administration officials of keeping ancestral land in Koh Nhek district’s Sok San commune off-limits to locals by claiming it is part of a protected forest.

Svan Pop, 41, said Monday that the 76 families living in Sok San commune are overcrowded and need the land, which he said has been rightfully theirs since the 1960s, to live on and farm. He add-ed that the land should be used to relocate 46 Phnong families in the commune.

“We want to relocate 46 families. We just want to farm. We don’t have any idea to sell it,” he said.

Koh Nhek District Governor Men Saveth denied the villagers’ accusations, saying the area was declared protected forest by a 2002 sub-decree and is currently being managed by the environmental organization WWF.

There is no shortage of land in the commune, but the villagers are concerned because the price of land has increased since the commune’s roads have been improved, Men Saveth said.

“When there is a good road, they make claims,” he said, adding that by law a new village can only be established with a minimum of 150 families.

Om Yentieng, human rights commission head, said he hasn’t yet seen the complaint.

WWF technical adviser Craig Bruce said that the Ministry of Agriculture’s Forestry Admini­stration controls the disputed area, which is part of the Mondolkiri Protected Forest.

WWF’s role in the protected forest is to support the Forestry Administration in a technical capacity but has no authority over the area, he said. WWF is, he added, investigating to see what the villagers’ needs are in terms of land shortage.

  (Additional reporting by Emily Lodish)


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