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In Mondolkiri, Political Candidates Address Ethnic Minority Concerns

An ethnic minority Cambodian boy, left, stands next to his mother at a village in Mondul Kiri province some 265 kilometers (165 miles) northeast Phnom Penh, file photo.
MONDOLKIRI Province - Human rights workers and other civil society groups on Wednesday urged the competing political parties for July’s election to address the ongoing land crises and illegal deforestation that are hurting indigenous populations.

About 100 people from various ethnic minority groups from five provinces attended a forum in Mondolkiri province, describing problems with deforestation, mining and land concessions to a group of political representatives.

Cambodia has about 20 different ethnic minorities, most of whom live in the forested northeast of the country, but comprise about 1 percent of the population.

Chhit Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum, told participants they represented some of Cambodia’s most vulnerable groups.

Participants of the forum complained of losing their land and livelihoods in the face of ongoing land concessions and deforestation, most of it done with backing by powerful government or business interests.

This includes illegal logging with the support of local authorities, said on member of the Kouy ethnic minority, who spoke anonymously.

“These days, around five or six containers of expensive logs are trucked out each day, freely, but when the common people transport just a few logs, the authorities extort them for money,” he said.

Representatives from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party were present, as were those from the royalist Funcinpec. No officials from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party participated.

Rescue Party candidate Son Chhay addressed the group, saying he understood they were trying to protect their forests. “But the authorities take no action against illegal logging, and the powerful illegal logging patrons are evidently backed by government officials,” he said.

Funcinpec candidate Chhim Sakhorn echoed that position.

Svay Sam Eang, deputy governor of Mondolkiri province, said he recognized the problems facing minority groups, but he said the government was working on a strategy to help protect their land.

To curb illegal logging, villagers have to help, he said.

“If local communities don’t report illegal logging to authorities, how can we know and take action?” he said.

Participants said they do, in fact, report these crimes, only to see nothing done about them.