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Land Concessions a Growing Threat for Cambodia’s Indigenous, Activist Says

Yun Mane, chair of the Cambodia Indigenous Youth Association, is in Washington this week.

WASHINGTON DC - With economic concessions now widespread in the countryside, international donors must work harder to help Cambodia’s ethnic minorities battle forced evictions and land grabs, a representative for these groups said.

Yun Mane, chair of the Cambodia Indigenous Youth Association, is in Washington this week, meeting with international groups to push for more land rights for the indigenous.

She told VOA Khmer Tuesday that the companies being granted large land concessions have become a major threat for traditional ways of life.

Some 2 million hectares of land across the country have been granted as economic concessions, putting heavy pressure on the traditional way of life for a population of 190,000 in indigenous communities from 24 different clans, she said.

“No developmental process has ever studied the impacts on the living situation of the indigenous people,” she said. “Most of the developments cause effects to their farms, their forests…graveyards and even spirit forests.” Land concessions can also make it hard for communities to hunt for food, as they traditionally have done, she said.

Land issues will require the involvement of developers, and strict government regulation to prevent or punish wrongdoing, she said.

“What is important is enforcement,” she said. And while there are some safeguards in place by agencies like the World Bank and government policies that are in development, “the problem is in the implementation.”

Just five communities are currently registered with proper land titles, but many others aren’t, she said. And indigenous groups have to be part of the process, including consultation on development decisions. “Then problems will hardly ever occur,” she said.

Even though different communities have different ways of life, “the common issue for them is living based on the land and natural resources,” she said.

Yun Mane was in Washington to meet with the World Bank and other donors and international NGOs. Aside from land issues, Yun Mane was also seeking more aid in health and education.

Only about 50 students from indigenous communities in Cambodia are currently studying at a university, she said. “This figure is still a problem for which we need more support, especially from big donors, to enable indigenous students to have an opportunity to study.”