Indigenous people in northeastern provinces yesterday raised concern over wildlife sanctuaries that could be affected by the government’s plan to set up new provinces carved out from Mondulkiri province’s Koh Nhek district and Ratanakkiri province’s Lumphat district.
Yun Lorang, secretary of the Cambodia Indigenous People Alliance, yesterday said that many indigenous people who live in the two districts have expressed their concerns to him.
“Some indigenous people want the government to cancel the plan,” he said. “Others, however, want the government to thoroughly study the impact on sanctuaries and explain the plan clearly to them.”
Mr Lorang said that the indigenous people are concerned that creating the new provinces will impact three wildlife sanctuaries in both districts, the Prey Pok Wildlife Sanctuary, Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary and Phnom Prech Wildlife Sanctuary.
He noted that they are also worried that outsiders will move into their community.
“We are not against the government’s plan, but we want a thorough study to be carried out first and the details explained to us,” Mr Lorang said.
He noted that most people who live in both districts are from the Bunong indigenous group and other ethnic minorities, including Kreung, Tumpuon and Kroal.
In a letter on Friday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng requested the government to assist in improving civil administration, security, public order, local development and public services in the new provinces.
Mr Kheng said technical officers will be assigned with relevant partners to conduct a feasibility study on the proposed areas, prior to conferring with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
He noted that he wants preliminary evaluations to be complete by January.
“This is in order to ensure a sufficient period of time for the government to adjust the number of seats in the capital and provinces and cities across the country for the upcoming provincial and district council elections,” Mr Kheng said.
Moeun Vuthy, an indigenous people’s rights activist, yesterday said that they were not only concerned over the wildlife sanctuaries but also about the loss of natural resources which could affect their livelihoods.
“To allay their concerns, the government should carry out a thorough study and hold discussions with indigenous people,” he said. Mr Vuthy said that they are concerned over the plan because their community land is not registered yet.
General Khieu Sopheak, the Interior Ministry’s spokesman, said that he agreed with the call by the indigenous people for the government to study the plan thoroughly and discuss details with them.
“We just made a suggestion to the Prime Minister but have not yet carried out any studies,” he said. “If studies find that the plan benefits the majority of people and the nation, we will go ahead with it.”
Gen Sopheak noted that the government has yet to set up a committee to study the plan, but noted it will likely involve the Interior Ministry, Rural Development Ministry, Land Management Ministry and Health Ministry.
“When we carry out the studies, we will discuss the details thoroughly with indigenous people who live there,” he said.