Representatives of the Pu Nong indigenous community in Mondulkiri province’s Bou Sra commune have accused the director of the Provincial Rural Development Department of forcing them to withdraw a complaint over the prevention of their indigenous peoples’ day celebration last year.
In August 2016, the Pu Nong community were set to celebrate indigenous peoples’ day, but were blocked by a team of police led by PRDD director Yun Saroum.
More than 900 people from indigenous communities provided thumbprints and filed a complaint to the provincial level and six relevant ministries, requesting to remove Mr Saroum from his position.
On Friday, representative of the Lammes indigenous community Song Bro said that Mr Saroum and four ministry officials came to her house and forced her to provide a thumbprint on a letter to withdraw the complaint.
Ms Bro said that because she was afraid for her safety, she provided the thumbprint on the letter. Afterwards, she asked human rights groups to intervene and have her withdrawal of the complaint dismissed.
“I call on Adhoc to please intervene and help dismiss the thumbprint I gave,” she said. “I did not want to do so, it is like killing the indigenous community, but I was scared. Our stance is still to sue the department director and we won’t withdraw the complaint.”
Mondulkiri indigenous community representative Kroeung Tola confirmed that they have filed a complaint about Mr Saroum in the past.
However, the complaint has never been dealt with, Mr Tola said, noting the only action to come from the complaint is the recent collection of thumbprints to have the complaint removed.
PRDD director Mr Saroum dismissed the accusations, saying that he did not threaten anyone. At the time he only went to meet with citizen representatives to deal with the case.
“I have not done anything which would need to be handled at a national level,” he said. “The government has set up a program on the rights of indigenous people, but those people tried to accuse and sue me; I know there are people who stand behind them.”
Rural Development Ministry spokesman Chan Darong said he had yet to receive information on the case, but will look into the issues raised by residents with the help of officials from the Indigenous Development Department.
“It seems the people will only be satisfied with a change in the [PRDD] official, but we have to obey the statute of civil servants. There are procedures. However wrong they are, we will follow the procedures.”
Sok Rotha, Mondulkiri provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said his association has been examining the case and whether there were threats against people to provide thumbprints to withdraw their original complaint.
“If the contract was made with any coercion, it is contrary to the law and violates human rights,” he said.