Four villagers representing more than 1,800 Bunong ethnic families who are embroiled in a territorial spat in Mondulkiri province petitioned two ministries and Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday.
They want the authorities to push the local authority to revoke the private ownership of a portion of state-owned land around Doh Kramom Mountain.
Nan Dany, one of the villagers from Sen Monorom town, said he and three others from Koh Nhek, O’Raing and Pech Chreada districts sought intervention from the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction and the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, as well as Hun Sen’s cabinet, in an attempt to reverse the provincial administration’s decision which saw 15 out of 102ha of state-owned land granted to private entities.
Dany suggested that the local authority had defied Hun Sen’s order issued in February, in which the provincial administration was urged to solve the dispute in a proper manner and return the land ownership to the state.
“The [provincial] authority must adhere to Samdech’s [Hun Sen’s] directive immediately. I don’t understand why they hadn’t done so earlier and I wonder what they think about us, the ethnic people,” he said.
Government officials and community representatives had once examined and measured the disputed land plot, but no result or solution to the issue has been offered, the petitions said.
It also said a Prakas issued by the Council of Ministers in 2004 dictated that the 102ha belonged to the state. However, private entities managed to “grab” 15ha of it over time, drawing the ire to the local communities who now battle to reclaim the missing hectares.
Mondulkiri Provincial Hall spokesman Sok Sera claimed the authority paid great attention to finding the right solution to the dispute. He said they had recently submitted a report on the spat to Hun Sen and are expecting the prime minister’s decision.
“Samdech [Hun Sen] is examining the report and we will abide by his decision,” he said.
Sera vowed that the authority would “work hard to solve the spat with peaceful and compromising means”, adding that “hundreds of families have been living and farming at the foot of the mountain since 1990, long before the prakas was signed”.
However, Dany denied claims that other people had lived in the area prior to the prakas being signed. He said only the homes of Bunong families had been built on the mountain.
In March, Mondulkiri governor Svay Sam Eang announced the nullification of the provincial administration’s 2015 decision that granted a portion of the Doh Kramom Mountain area to the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
On June 3, 2015, the provincial hall agreed to cede a 5.07ha plot to the ministry for the construction of a mine, energy and petroleum research centre.
But in a letter dated March 18 that was made public three days later, Sam Eang said the government was now planning to preserve the mountain as a cultural centre and enlist it as a world heritage site.
The provincial hall also reversed its previous decisions that granted a 25m by 50m plot and another one measuring the same dimension within the mountain compound to the Department of Industry and Handicrafts and the Department of Civil Service, respectively.