Nearly 20 people representing more than 100 families in Koh Kong province’s Thma Baing district yesterday gathered in Phnom Penh to submit petitions at various institutions requesting intervention to gain official recognition of the Chong indigenous people in Areng Valley.
Hing Pov, a representative of the Chong people in Chumnoab commune, said they came to submit petitions at the Ministry of Rural Development, the Prime Minister’s cabinet and at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
He added they wanted to urge relevant authorities to officially recognise the Chong people in Areng Valley so they could use the land and forest, as well as preserve traditions and the lifestyle of their communities.
“We only have the name of indigenous people, but there is no protection from national and international laws. We want to preserve our culture and traditions to be long-lasting for our children,” he said.
“More importantly, indigenous peoples are connected to the forest, so if we can register our identity, we would also be helping to preserve natural resources.”
Kel Koun, 32, a representative of the Chong people Bralay commune, said they twice submitted petitions to commune authorities in 2017, requesting recognition as indigenous people.
But there was no response from local authorities so they came to submit petitions to relevant ministries and to help expedite the process, and to avoid the impact of land disputes in the future.
“If we are recognised by national and international laws and the land is registered collectively, farming and spirit forest land will be protected,” he said.
“I am also worried about the land issue. Commune and village authorities in the past said that even though we are not registered, we are still indigenous people, but how can we live if the law doesn’t recognise us?”
Leap Samnang, director of the Ministry of Rural Development’s administration department, said he would bring the petition to the ministry’s leaders for review.
“I accept it first and will submit it to the minister. For any resolution and response from the minister, I will inform later,” he said.
Ngach Samin, head of the Cambodia Indigenous Youth Association, said the Cambodian government has a clear strategy to support indigenous peoples through national policies to protect their benefits and rights.
However, he said that according to a recent study, 26 groups of indigenous people including the Chong were likely to lose their identity and because of this, the government should push local authorities to speed up the recognition process.
“The demand of Chong indigenous people is one thing that we should pay attention to, especially local authorities, to help push their requests as soon as possible to better develop indigenous people,” he said.