PHNOM PENH —
More than 800 indigenous people in Mondulkiri province are seeking to oust the provincial governor, who is accused of violating the rights of the ethnic minority.
Representatives of the ethnic group and human rights activists say that since Governor Eng Bun Heang came to power following the 2013 election, free speech has been curtailed and ancestral lands have been infringed upon by land concessions.
The demand for the governor to be ousted was made during an event to mark the 30th World Habitat Day in Phnom Penh on Monday, where anti-eviction campaigners from all over the country also gathered.
Kroeung Tola, 26, a representative of the 890 Bunong ethnic people who filed a complaint against the governor with the Ministry of Interior, National Assembly and seven other related institutions, told VOA Khmer that the basic universal rights of minority people had been repeatedly violated.
“Since His Excellency Eng Bun Heang came to power up till now, there have been many cases of ethnic minority rights violations,” he said.
“And there has been an increase in the offering of social land concessions and economic land concessions, which affects the people who live in the cultural land, such as the land for burying dead people and land for spirits and reserved land, and so on.
“The companies that got land concessions do not cooperate with the people living in the area.”
Mr. Tola said that authorities obstructed the Bunong from organizing an event on International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples in August, when more than 20 soldiers and policemen blocked celebrations.
“The [police] chief said that if we dared to construct a tent in order to celebrate, he would burn the car that brought the tent equipment as well as the tent itself,” Mr. Tola recounted.
He said he expected Prime Minister Hun Sen to consider the Bunong’s appeal in order to avoid the provincial governor’s wrongdoing tarnishing the government’s reputation among ethnic minorities.
Eng Bun Heang said that he had not see the complaint, adding that he was not concerned about losing his position.
“I don't have any concern because I don’t think I did anything wrong to them [the Bunong],” he told VOA Khmer.
“But they believe the instigation of other people, and say that the land is involved with this and that, or the land is an economic land concession.
“Where is the land? The government has cut out the overlapped land, and some companies have been removed.”
Regarding the accusation that authorities did not allow the people to celebrate International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, the governor claimed that the Bunong had tried to hold the event in a different place from the location for which they had asked permission from the authorities.
Sok Ratha, human rights coordinator for Adhoc, said the governor was insinuating that the Bunong people were being manipulated into making their complaint.
“The language he used was the language of pouring water on each other,” he said. “He wasn’t using the language of a state authority who represents the people and serve the people properly.”
Ratha went on to say that the governor also appeared to be underestimating the Bunong people, assuming that they have little knowledge of the law and their rights.
“Now, the indigenous people are aware of legal procedure and understand human rights and the rights of the indigenous people,” he said.