My Fourth Visit to Ratanakiri, Ethnic and Faith Harmony

I am so glad that last night I stayed in the provincial town of Ratanakiri. I talked to HE Bou Thang, member of the National Assembly, yesterday that I had come and stayed overnight in Ratanakiri three times already since 1982. Baan Lung at the time did not have good roads as we do now. In 1990, I came again and spent the night again on a combined journey to Stoeng Treng province. We travelled by a four-wheel drive. Starting in the morning, we arrived at Stoeng Treng provincial town from Ratanakiri’s Baan Lung at 5pm. I came back again not long after that to visit a village and the villagers requested me for electric lines. Today is my fourth time. Now you see the difference, in 1990 I had to spend the whole day to get from Ratanakiri’s Baan Lung to Stoeng Treng. Nowadays, from Phnom Penh to Ratanakiri, people can make it in traveling between nine and ten hours.

The situation has changed in thirty years if we go back to 1982 or 22 years if we go back to 1990. You have the chance to observe the overall development in Ratanakiri now and the situation has so much improved that it has become a target where our youth-student volunteers find it possible to come and work in the land measuring and titling mission. I am so happy to see all these developments and changes after we have liberated ourselves from the genocidal regime of Pol Pot. Either Cambodians or ethnic populations, we take it as the best opportunity for our country to harmonize among different ethnicities and faiths, which not far from our country, these issues have turned out to be racial and religious war. That is very good for our country.

Hydropower First Developed in Ratanakiri

Before we talk about the land measuring and titling issue, I wish to remind that the Cambodian People’s Party has had clear policies in all fields. HE Bou Thang may still remember that we have developed and maintained policies vis as vis ethnic populations, intellectuals, youth, agriculture and industry, and so on. I am sure thanks to those policies we have built up and made it this far. We set up a Commission for the Northeastern Region, under HE Bou Thang’s leadership, to oversee the overall development of the region. Though with limited resources and development activity being the long term target, we all should observe that the Ratanakiri province has been the first to have hydropower electricity, even before those in Phnom Penh. That clearly indicates that we give priority to development for ethnic populations in the northeastern region.

It is also obvious that we implemented special educational policy for those coming from the region and those students had been encouraged to return and work for their communities. There is no difference anymore between ethnic minority and majority as far as education achievement is concerned. For ethnic minority people, we have some trained and obtained Ph D from Russia and other institutions in various disciplines. We are building more and more schools for them too. Take for instance today I learn that the people in the district of Andong Meas has a request for school buildings and I am not coming here empty handed.

Ownership Titles – RGC’s Goal for the People

I have seen the other day on TV, an interview in which people thank for achieving secure ownerships of their lands. This has brought me to a conclusion that the new action based on existing land policy that we have been implementing is correct and can replicate throughout the country. We are making sure that people will get legal ownership on their farmlands, free from encroachment by others. It is not ownership rights for one day or one year. The ownership right will be for generations to come. Just now, we have this brother stating that he has three land parcels of ten hectares in size. I would say after gaining this land ownership titles, you can keep the land and hand down to your children or do whatever you want.

A person with this size of land would not be acceptable under Pol Pot’s time. In Pol Pot’s time, people with five hectares of land or more, would be classified as rich farmers. There were five categories if I could remember well – poor farmers, low-level farmers, middle level farmers, upper level farmers and rich farmers. Among the five categories, those belong to middle and upper level and rich categories were executed. In this case, the man has ten hectares of land so he is classified a rich farmers according to Pol Pot’s norm. He could be killed. As for the Royal Government now, it does not matter how much you have, we are providing you with the ownership titles.

I would like to take this opportune moment to express my sincere thanks for the efforts made by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, the local authority of all levels and the armed forces for their involvement in this huge and unprecedented operation in the Cambodian history. The mission is perhaps the only one of its kind in the region and East Asian region, where land measuring and titling has involved also youth-student volunteers. We also have the titles made of good paper implanted with latest technology to prevent counterfeiting. In this weather of perhaps 17 degrees Celsius or less, implanted royal insignia visibly appears.

There is one other fact for example, someone has more than one wife and registers for land titles with all of them in separated land parcels. Their names would appear in the database and it will be obvious that the person has more than one wife. It will be up to the lawfully wedded wife if she would charge him according to the Law on Monogamy.

Rice Cooking Trick and More Attention Paid on Youth-Student Volunteers

I am so thankful to the youth-student volunteers who have made great efforts in collaboration with the cadastre officials in this land measuring and titling mission. When I was in the army, in a group of twelve soldiers, every two of us took turn in cooking rice and making dishes. Though I was promoted I still involved myself in the group to take turn cooking. What I wanted to share with you is that I like the Cambodian light spicy soup made with various kind of vegetables, and green banana is my favorite. I always made that soup in my team. The trick is I always had MSG (monosodium glutamate) and a bit of that made the soup taste good. It helps everyone in my team like the soup of green banana, sour soup of young banana shoots, etc.

In those days, I woke up and cooked rice at 3 am not at 5 am like you. We had to do that to get rid of smoke, as its appearance in the air would be an indicator for the aircraft to know where we were. It was quite frequent that those who cooked rice late in those days had to put out the fire abruptly for the sound of an aircraft. To be frank, I was concerned in the beginning as I was sure if you all could cope with the different conditions and environments. As I said in Uddar Meanjei province the other day, taking care of over 2,000 youth-student volunteers requires me to be more attentive than doing the same for the police, military police and soldiers. The difference is they are trained to be protector of the Royal Government and people. They make their living with this job and get used to walking and living in the forest already. The youth-student volunteers never were in that type of training or living away from their parents.

Persisting Efforts to Implement Land Policy

However, because of correct policy, we will not withdraw from this action but expand it further. First we sent the land measuring and titling teams – which composed of cadastre officials and youth-student volunteers – to seven provinces only, Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri, Kratie, Kompong Cham, Kompot, Battambang and Banteay Meanjei for a pilot action. With the positive result and development, we have expanded the number of team to 168 though we still lack technical expertise and tools. You may agree with me that if our policy is not correct, there would not be this level of participation. While lacking people’s participation, people would also not take part in measuring their lands. On the contrary, people in places where the missions have yet to come are waiting for the youth-student volunteers and cadastre officials. I must reassure our people again that we will not back off until we finish this mission.

There is this area along the Cambodian-Thai border that is yet to delimit as was reported by Deputy Prime Minister HE Ke Kim Yan yesterday. We leave it for the moment. Secondly, we do not allow our land measuring and titling teams to go into mine infested and UXOs areas. However, I would assure those of you who own the lands in these two areas that measuring and titling will proceed but not this time. We will set the task for the cadastre officials to do it after the place is clearly demined. In fact, in this part of the country, we do not have many such places but there are more in the western parts of the country like Battambang, Uddar Meanjei, Banteay Meanjei, etc.

From Fighting Each Other to Sitting Together, Cambodia’s Two Prides

Death and handicap from UXOs and mines is the result of the bad policy in the past and we have to go on resolving the problem. Cambodia was bombarded, fighting went on from generation to generation, and we have been putting off the flames of war and atrocities. Yesterday, while having dinner, I said “looking back to the past, separation was endless. I am so proud that in my time (of leadership) I have realized the achievement of making Khmer that fought one another sit together.” Yesterday I had dinner with HE Ke Kim Yan, HE Chea Sophara, Brother Bou Thang, Brother Soey Keo and HE Pao Ham Phan. We do not have to go back far, I said, starting from the reign of Preah Srey Raja, when he had problem with Noreay Raja’s son – Soriyotey, Cambodia went into division and divided into three different ruling areas.

Now we have the chance to gather through win-win policy. We now sit down and have food together. Though we have different political parties and tendencies, which could cause war of words, it would not cause any death. I urge that if we use advertisement techniques, it would even be better as far as exchange of words is concerned. I mean you talk about how good are your products and do not have to devalue or disrespect others. However, it is also absurd that some have fooled around, like those who sell herbal medicines that a single product could fix people from hundred different diseases. I may say therefore moving from fighting to sitting with each other is one Cambodia’s pride.

The second pride that we have achieved is the harmonization among ethnic minorities and regions. I have noticed that in various places, where there was an inauguration of the Mosque, there were also Cambodian participants as well. When there is an inauguration of the Cambodian Buddhist temples, vice versa people of the Khmer Islam minority take their time to participate too. I am so proud of this point while religious strife happens in numerous countries. It is fortunate for Cambodia that there is no religious difference and ethnic minority issue preventing our development. What is more important for us is to reduce the gap of education among them.

74,448 Hectares for 12,562 Families in Ratanakiri

As is reported by HE Pao Ham Phan, governor of the province of Ratanakiri, we have some 74,448 hectares of lands involving 12,562 families to measure and sort out their land titles. Of the said total area, 32,476 hectares are in economic concession, 20,559 hectares are in forest coverage, 3,113 hectares are warranted for confiscation, and 17,000 hectares are in forest concession. As of this moment, I must affirm that all sorts of land – the forest coverage, the forest concession, economic land concession – are state lands. The state provides the land on concession to companies. It is in this pattern that I have ordered for a review of all the concessions. HE Im Chhun Lim informed that the process of reviewing is undergoing and cross- checking will be conducted at the end of the year. However, the size of land cutting out of the concession of some kind to the companies has reached tens of thousands of hectares.

Today we have cut out some 1,854 hectares land from the concessions, of which five hectares from the Heng Brother Company and 1,849 hectares from Viesna Investment Company, and transferred them to private state land for giving out to the people, with some reserved for future population growth and development of infrastructure. Today we are presenting land titles for people coming from two districts – Bo Keo and Andoung Meas. As far as I know, the cadastre information indexes are on display in five more places. As for people in Stoeng Treng province, I am asking for your understanding from here that I cannot make it on December 18 as scheduled because I have to attend the ASEAN-India meeting from December 19 through to 20. I will have to come back to Stoeng Treng, Mondulkiri, Koh Kong provinces while I will do it for Takeo on December 30.

Fourth Economic Pole, Bridges, Roads and Schools

I am so happy to listen to the briefing on private and household rubber plantation in the province. It seems that we have a total figure of 29,235 hectares under rubber where as 2,436 hectares are already providing latex. With the rubber potential in the province of Ratanakiri, I hope the future connection by infrastructural development would make it the fourth economic pole of the country, especially the northeastern part of Cambodia – Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri, Stoeng Treng provinces, which are major agro-industrial zone. I am interested most of all is the small-scale household rubber plantation.

However, it is my warning that labor shortage is going to be a problem. Facing with this situation, employers have to pay attention to firstly improve labor cost, provide lodging and offer them healthcare coverage. Unless the three policies are underway, it will be hard to attract and sustain labor for your need. We must foresee this situation.

I would take this opportunity to declare official opening for the bridge, though it is yet to be finished to save us time and resources. I am sure the bridge in place could cause loss of income of those doing for ferry or boat service but I am sure they are not angry with me. The bridge has replaced the ferry, which could be slower in time of need for people in distress situation. As for the original 4.2 meter width Bailey bridge, in over a month, we will replace it with the seven meter width concrete bridge. People living in this area may find some troubles but we will have a new and larger bridge instead. As for the Bailey, HE Bou Thang could think of placing it somewhere else in the province.

As far as road network is concerned, as I said yesterday, our plan for the region is that we will have asphalted roads from here to the district of Bo Keo and to the National Road 78. Though a thorough study has yet to be concluded, I have agreed in principle to asphalt the road. The problem is we do not know yet if it is going to be ready in just one year or over a period of several years. Reviewing the national road network plan, as it is possible that one of the national roads will be running through here, it cannot be a small road. We do not have number for the road yet from Baan Lung to Mom Bei, from where there is a road back to Andong Meas, then turning to the central road along the border with Vietnam.

I would reaffirm it to HE Saat Sami that for any bridge that is 60 meters and longer, we must place solar energizing lighting system. As this bridge will be 252 meters long, we will have to install solar energizing lighting. We should apply previous method to look for the closest house to the bridge to place the solar panel on the roof, while along with providing power to the bridge we also provide power to the home. I would provide in response to demand here for one school building of six classrooms with one building of twelve classrooms in two storeys in preparation for the future need for secondary school building.

Everyone is Equal in Birth and in Education

I would encourage children of ethnic minorities here to go to school. We should not believe that only children form rich families would do better in learning. Children of the poor could do it too. I can give you my own experience. My second son was born in Pol Pot’s time. He was fed only with his mother’s breast milk. I doubted his physical buildup and his brain development. However, among all of my children, he went through to Ph. D degree and was the first Cambodian to graduate from the West Point Military Academy in the United States of America. His physical buildup and brain development is no worse than his brothers who are born in Phnom Penh.

As far as rank is concerned, we have commoners and royal families and officials. However, all of us were born naked. The difference is if you are born in the Royal Palace or in the Royal family, you are a prince or princess, while you have commoner’s name for not being in the royal family. Everyone alike comes with a brain. The important point here is we have to have chance, technical and material basis as others. It is in this understanding that I build for people in the district of Andong Meas a two-storey building of twelve classrooms and a three-room office for the school director.

I have a strong belief in development that everyone said it would reduce the gap in brain resources via the development of education in rural areas. There would be no difference from one place to another, from one ethnic minority to another as far as developing their ability to think and to gain knowledge is concerned. Take for instance, later, we could recruit the local youth to engage in land measuring effort rather than bringing those form the city.

Khmer Knows and Loves Khmers Better

That is why I was responding to a foreign national about the remark that “developing rubber plantation in Tumring of Kompong Thom would deprive the jobs of ethnic people there.” I asked him to elaborate. I asked if he wants our people to have development or to leave our people living depending on harvesting rattan, collecting trees sap. On one front, they talked to me about development, and on another, they told me to keep our people to depend on rattan, tree sap collection. I asked him if he wanted our people to stay as what they were years ago for tourists to see.

I must say in short that there is no one who loves Khmer than Khmers themselves. I even responded to one person that I thank him very much for loving Khmer than we Khmer people. He come saying to me why I moved people to settle on mined-fields. He talked to me as if I am a stupid man. In fact, when there is a problem, no foreigner would stay with us. I have neither foreign passport nor houses in foreign countries. I would not go anywhere but stay with the people./.