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Ratanakkiri Complainants Want Forest Lands Returned

An elderly couple, one of the minority villagers, living in Ratanakirri, are also caught up in a land dispute with the sister of Cambodia’s Finance Minister, Keat Chhon, file photo.

Indigenous villagers who are accusing a World Bank-financed rubber company of taking their land in Ratanakkiri province say they want their lands returned to them.

Representatives of 17 different groups say the Hoang Anh Gia Lai company, which received funding from the bank’s International Finance Corporation, devastated forest lands affecting up to 2,000 families. They filed a complaint over the funding to the World Bank earlier this month.

Sal Hneuy, a representative of one group, told “Hello VOA” on Thursday that they were not consulted prior to the project and that the IFC money was used to finance “land grabs.”

“Before they gave the money [to the company], they did not assess or consult with the indigenous communities,” he said. “They just did it.”

“What we want is for the reserved lands to be returned to the indigenous groups,” he said.

The World Bank’s ombudsman office said this week it had found the complaint by the villagers eligible for assessment.

Kha Sros, an activist for minority groups in Stung Treng province, told “Hello VOA” that she was not sure what the assessment will solve. But the groups she represents don’t want to see any more land seizures, she said. “That’s why we’ve just tried to cry out to organizations and the government, to help indigenous groups and not allow them to lose their lands in the future.”

These groups feel like they have been discriminated against, she said. And their complaints to local authorities went unheard. The groups do not “oppose the government and the company at all,” she said. “But we want our lands back.”

“They talk about development for the sake of development, but in the end, the indigenous groups have received nothing,” she said. “Is that development?”