Indigenous ethnic minority families trying to secure a communal title for their ancestral lands in Mondolkiri province’s Keo Seima district met with representatives of a rubber plantation accused of grabbing most of the area for the first time on Monday and are hoping for help from provincial authorities.
Yin Min, one of the villagers, said about 200 mostly ethnic Stieng people have been trying for about a year to secure a communal title to about 3,500 hectares of ancestral land, and that the Sovan Reachsey plantation has taken over all but about 600 hectares. He said the families have been complaining to government authorities and NGOs since the plantation was approved in 2010 and that Monday was the first time they had ever secured a meeting with the company.
Mr. Min said the villagers and the company could not agree on where the plantation’s boundaries should run, however, and that district governor Sin Vanvuth, who also attended the meeting, would refer the matter to the provincial government.
“There is no result from yesterday’s meeting, so we are waiting for a decision to be delivered by the provincial authorities,” he said. “We hope provincial authorities will decide in favor of our minority so we can protect our traditions.”
Mr. Min said the company representatives said little else and that he still did not know who owned the plantation, but claimed that the company representatives were ethnic Vietnamese and that only one of the two spoke Khmer. Many of the rubber plantations in northeast Cambodia are owned by Vietnamese companies and their subsidiaries and are regularly accused of grabbing land and logging illegally with the government’s tacit consent.
The governor, Mr. Vanvuth, confirmed his participation in the meeting and called it “fruitless.”
“There was no agreement at the meeting because the two parties disagreed over the boundaries of what belongs to the community and the size of the concession,” he said before hanging up.
Em Sopheak, provincial coordinator for the Community Legal Education Center, a legal aid NGO, said he had investigated the case and that the families had every right to the communal title they were seeking.
Such titles are designed specifically to protect ethnic minority communities from private companies trying to encroach on their ancestral lands.
Mr. Sopheak said this application faced the added challenge of covering land in both Mondolkiri and neighboring Kratie, which has made local authorities reluctant to sign off on some of the necessary paperwork.
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