An official with the Ministry of Rural Development on Monday blamed Koh Kong provincial authorities for stalling on a request from the Chong ethnic minority community in the Areng Valley to be officially recognised by the government.
A group from the ministry and a representative from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights paid a visit to the community on Sunday and spoke with 10 community representatives following a villagers’ petition on the matter submitted earlier this month to the ministry, the prime minister’s cabinet and the United Nations. Koh Kong provincial authorities also met with the community on Monday.
Chan Daron, spokesman for the Ministry of Rural Development, said the community had tried to request that they be recognised as a Chong ethnic minority community, but their request had remained at the local level due to a delay in the procedure.
“The work is involved with the lateness of authorities, not the Rural Development Ministry,” Daron said. “Officials are in discussions to find out what caused the delay in the registration with the commune, district and provincial authorities.”
The aim of the meetings was to see how officials can work together to push the registration process forward “faster”, he said.
“The registration at the Rural Development Ministry only takes between one and two weeks,” he added.
Being recognised as an indigenous community would allow the villagers to apply for a communal land title.
Koh Kong Governor Mithona Phouthong would only confirm that there was a meeting about the issue before referring questions to her provincial administrative official.
Ouch Touch, Koh Kong Provincial Hall administrative director, referred questions to Sok Sothy, spokesman for Koh Kong Provincial Hall, who said he was unaware of the issue.
Ven Vorn, a representative in Chumnap village, said residents from other villages including Chumnap Chrork Russey, Prek Svay and Koh villages began to be officially recognised and registered at the commune and district level in early 2017. The Chong ethnic minority community sent their request about six months later, though it has hasn’t advanced past the provincial hall yet.
“Our request remained at the provincial hall; [it has] not [been] sent to the ministry yet,” he said. “I don’t know the reason, but there is no problem with legality.”
Vorn said he and the other community members were told that Sunday’s meeting would help speed up the process.
“We [have been] waiting [for] such a long time and [we] hope it works this time,” he said.