Some 190 Bunong indigenous people in Mondulkiri province are expressing concern that land sales in the Tring and Pupe mountain areas could result in a loss of cultural sites and their ancestral identities.
Chean Vanna, one of their representatives in Pou Lung village, told The Post on November 18 the selling and buying of land on Tring mountain, which covers 11ha, and Pupe mountain, which covers 7ha, had led to disagreement among the indigenous population.
“[Some] want to continue selling, but other villagers do not agree and want to keep the land as an ancestral heritage and cultural site to attract tourists. Those who opposed have asked Sen Monorom authorities to intervene.
“We are worried that more land would be sold, so on November 16 we requested a collective land title but to no avail. So we wrote a letter to the commune, but it was rejected. We then submitted the letter to the town hall requesting an intervention, but it only signed a letter acknowledging the issue and did not provide any solution,” said Vann.
The letter included the thumbprints of the 190 Bunong villagers who opposed the buying and selling of land in the two mountainous areas.
Ngin Channa, another representative, said the two areas once covered large swathes of land and was a place for indigenous people to enjoy, cultivate crops and herd cattle, but much of the land was sold out. Now some of the villagers want to sell the remaining land, he said.
“Only about 190 people are joining us in the protest. The other people want to sell the land that we depend on,” Chann said.
Romnea commune chief Phin Ngok told The Post the two mountainous areas were collectively owned by indigenous peoples and the problem was internal disputes.
“I do not know how flexible it is. There have been disagreements with one group wanting a certain price and the other group wanting another,” Ngok said.
Ngok did not reveal the identity of the buyers. As for the protesters’ request, he said he rejected it because the sale and purchase documents had already been signed.
Sen Monorom town governor Hiek Sophan said he had not received any documents related to the request for intervention from the people of Pou Lung village.
“We are studying the land dispute in Pou Lung village because in the past, there were thumbprints agreeing to sell the land, but now there are thumbprints against it. I do not know for sure what they want,” Sophan said.
Eang Mengly, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the buying and selling of land is not possible if it belongs to the state even if there are fingerprints or a signature from the authorities.
“Land disputes in Mondulkiri province are complicated issues, so sub-national authorities should be careful about signing off on the buying, selling and registering of land,” Mengly said.