The government this week reaffirmed its commitment to indigenous peoples living in Cambodia, promising to protect their traditional ways of life ahead of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Prime Minister Hun Sen issued an open letter on Tuesday ahead of the international day that is set for August 9 and which the government plans to observe.

“The Cambodian government still takes care to protect indigenous peoples’ traditional ways of living throughout the country by issuing policies to protect their land and communities, as well as supporting their education and upgrading their infrastructure,” Mr Hun Sen said in the letter.

Mr Hun Sen added that a number of indigenous groups account for at least one percent of the country’s population, including the Bunong, Kouy, Tom Pon, Kroung and Charay peoples who have been living in Ratanakkiri, Mondulkiri, Kratie, Preah Vihear, Kampong Thom and Stung Treng provinces for centuries.

Sav Hem, 45, a representative for the Charay indigenous community in Ratanakkiri province’s Ou Yadav district, said that some indigenous communities enjoyed peace, but others worried about losing their land to powerful companies backed by the government.

“Some companies get land concessions from the government for development, but it effects indigenous peoples’ land,” he said.

“If we lose our land, we will lose our culture, our traditions. That is why we appeal to the government to protect us.”

Dam Samnang, a representative for the Bonong people in Stung Treng province, said that indigenous people in Sre Kor and Kbal Romeas communes were being forced off their ancestral lands by the government to make way for the Lower Sesan Dam II.

“We want to protect our ancestors’ graves, that is why we do not want to move to another place,” he said. “We want to keep our lands and our ancestral roots.”

Dozens of families have accepted compensation in the communes and left their ancestral lands, but at least 100 defiant families remain and are currently battling floods due to tests at the dam.

Sok Ratha , a coordinator for rights group Adhoc in Mondulkiri, said that Mr Hun Sen’s letter was not accurate because many indigenous continued to be under threat.

“They are under threat from powerful people with lots of money who want to develop their lands,” he said.

“That is why you often see them protesting for their rights.”

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Photo source: WITNESS via Flickr/Creative Commons (CC By-NC-ND 2.0). Photo: © WITNESS

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