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Ratanakiri Province រតនគីរី

Ratanakiri Province

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Country: Flag of Cambodia Cambodia
Division: Province
Area: 10,782 km²
Inhabitants: 118,000[1] (2004 est.)
Pop. density: 8.7 inh./km²
ISO 3166-2: KH-16
Map of Cambodia highlighting Ratanakiri Province

Ratanakiri Province is a province in northeastern Cambodia that borders Laos to the north, Vietnam to the east, Mondulkiri Province to the south, and Stung Treng Province to the west. Its geography ranges from rolling hills, mountains, and plateaus to lowland watersheds, crater lakes, and waterfalls. Most residents live in villages of 100 to 300 people, though the provincial capital of Banlung (by far Ratanakiri's largest settlement) is home to 17,000 of the province's 118,000 residents.

Ratnakiri has long been inhabited by the highland Khmer Loeu, who are a minority elsewhere in Cambodia. During the region's early history, the native population was exploited in the slave trade by the Khmer, Lao, and Thai empires who controlled the region. The colonial era under France ended the slave trade economy, but after independence a harsh Khmerization campaign again threatened the local population's ways of life. The Khmer Rouge built its headquarters in the province, and bombing during the Vietnam War devastated the region. Land alienation among Khmer Loeu caused by recent development is the dominant current issue in the province.

The province remains among the least developed in Cambodia. Local infrastructure is poor, and the vast majority of the population engages in subsistence agriculture. Health indicators in Ratanakiri are the worst in Cambodia, with nearly one in four children dying before age five. Education levels are also low; three quarters of the population is illiterate.



[edit] History

Detail of an 1886 map of Indochina. At this time, present-day Ratanakiri was a part of Siam.
Detail of an 1886 map of Indochina. At this time, present-day Ratanakiri was a part of Siam.

Shouldered stone axes and earthenware ceramics found in Ratanakiri suggest that the region has been occupied since at least the stone or bronze age;[2] trade between towns along the Gulf of Thailand and the highlanders of present-day northeast Cambodia occurred at least as early as the 4th century A.D.[3] The area was controlled by the Khmer Empire before being conquered by the Lao in the 18th century and then the Thai in the 19th century.[4] From at least the 13th century until the 19th century, highland villages were raided by Khmer, Lao, and Thai slave traders.[3][5] The area was incorporated into French Indochina in 1893, and colonial rule replaced slave trading.[3] The French built huge rubber plantations, especially in Labansiek (present-day Banlung); indigenous workers were used for construction and rubber harvesting.[5] While under French control, the land comprising present-day Ratanakiri was transfered from Siam (Thailand) to Cambodia.[4] Though highland groups initially resisted their colonial rulers, by the end of the colonial era in 1953 they had been subdued.[3]

Ratanakiri Province was created in 1959 from land that had been the eastern area of Stung Treng Province.[5] The name Ratanakiri (រតនគីរី) is formed from the Khmer words រតន (ratana, gem) and គីរី (kiri, mountain), describing two features for which the province is known. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Norodom Sihanouk regime instituted a development and Khmerization campaign in northeast Cambodia that was designed to bring villages under government control, limit the influence of insurgents in the area, and "modernize" indigenous communities.[3][6][7] Some Khmer Loeu were forcibly moved to the lowlands to be educated in Khmer language and culture, Khmer from elsewhere in Cambodia were moved into the province, and roads and large rubber plantations were built.[3][6][7] After facing with harsh working conditions and sometimes involuntary labor on the plantations, many Khmer Loeu left their traditional homes and moved farther from provincial towns.[6] In 1968, tensions led to an uprising by the Brao in which several ethnic Khmer were killed.[8][9][10] The government responded harshly, torching settlements and killing hundreds of villagers.[8][10][9]

U.S. president Richard Nixon (shown here discussing Cambodia at a 1970 press conference) authorized the covert 1969–1970 bombing of Vietnamese targets in Ratanakiri.
U.S. president Richard Nixon (shown here discussing Cambodia at a 1970 press conference) authorized the covert 1969–1970 bombing of Vietnamese targets in Ratanakiri.[11]

In the 1960s, the ascendant Khmer Rouge forged an alliance with ethnic minorities in Ratanakiri, exploiting Khmer Loeu resentment of the central government.[8][12][13] The Communist Party of Kampuchea headquarters was moved to Ratanakiri in 1966, and hundreds of Khmer Loeu joined CPK units.[10][13] During this period, there was also extensive Vietnamese activity in Ratanakiri.[14] Vietnamese communists had operated in Ratanakiri since the 1940s;[14] at a June 1969 press conference, Sihanouk said that Ratanakiri was "practically North Vietnamese territory".[15] Between March 1969 and May 1970, the United States undertook a massive covert bombing campaign in the region, aiming to disrupt sanctuaries for communist Vietnamese troops. Villagers were forced outside of main towns to escape the bombings, foraging for food and living on the run with the Khmer Rouge.[6][7][11] In June 1970, the central government withdrew its troops from Ratanakiri, abandoning the area to Khmer Rouge control.[3][6] The Khmer Rouge regime, which had not initially been harsh in Ratanakiri, became increasingly oppressive.[3][12] The Khmer Loeu were forbidden from speaking their native languages or practicing their traditional customs and religion, which were seen as incompatible with communism; communal living became compulsory, and the province's few schools were closed.[6][16] Purges of ethnic minorities increased in frequency,[12] and thousands of refugees fled to Vietnam and Laos.[7] Preliminary studies indicate that bodies accounting for approximately 5% of Ratanakiri's residents were deposited in mass graves, a significantly lower rate than elsewhere in Cambodia.[17]

After the Vietnamese defeated the Khmer Rouge in 1979, government policy toward Ratanakiri became one of benign neglect.[6] The Khmer Loeu were permitted to return to their traditional livelihoods, but the government provided no support in the form of infrastructure.[6] Under the Vietnamese, there was little contact between the provincial government and many local communities.[6] Ratanakiri's recent history has been characterized by development and attendant challenges to traditional ways of life.[18][19] The national government has built roads, encouraged tourism and agriculture, and facilitated rapid immigration of lowland Khmers into Ratanakiri.[18][20][21] Road improvements and political stability have increased land prices, and many Khmer Loeu villagers have been dispossessed of their land.[18][19] In the 2000s, Ratanakiri also received over 1,000 Degars (Montagnards) fleeing unrest in neighboring Vietnam; the Cambodian government was criticized for its forced repatriation of many refugees.[22] (For more information on land alienation and Degar refugees, see Human rights issues, below.)

[edit] Geography and climate

Aerial view of Yak Loum Lake, a crater lake near Banlung
Aerial view of Yak Loum Lake, a crater lake near Banlung

The geography of Ratanakiri Province is diverse, encompassing rolling hills, mountains, plateaus, lowland watersheds, crater lakes, and waterfalls. Two major rivers, Tonle San and Tonle Srepok, flow from east to west across the province. The far north of the province encompasses mountains of the Annamite Range, with dense broadleaf evergreen forests, relatively poor lithosol soil, and abundant wildlife.[23][24] South of the Srepok River is a flat area of tropical deciduous forests with clay and lithosol soils.[23][24][25] In the highlands between Tonle San and Tonle Srepok, the home of the vast majority of Ratanakiri's population, an hilly basalt plateau provides fertile red soils.[23][24][25] The area is characterized by secondary forest that has regrown after shifting cultivation or logging.[25] Along the eastern Vietnam border and western Stung Treng border are woodlands and mixed evergreen and deciduous forests.[25]

Like other areas of Cambodia, Ratanakiri has a monsoonal climate with a rainy season from May to October and a dry season from November to April.[25] Ratanakiri tends to be cooler, drier, and sunnier than the rest of Cambodia.[25] The average daily high temperature in the province is 34.0 °C (93.2 °F), and the average daily low temperature is 22.1 °C (71.8 °F).[26] Annual precipitation is approximately 2,000 millimetres (79 in) in the highlands and 2,900 millimetres (110 in) elsewhere.[25] Flooding occurs regularly during the rainy season, having apparently been exacerbated by the newly-built Yali Falls Dam.[27][28][29]

Ratanakiri includes the protected areas of Lomphat Wildlife Sanctuary and Virachey National Park. Though the province has been known for its relatively pristine environment, recent development has spawned numerous environmental issues.[30] Land use patterns are changing as population has accelerated and agriculture and logging have intensified.[30] Soil erosion is increasing, microclimates are being altered, and biodiversity is decreasing.[30] The province's abundant monsoonal rains, and hence its water supplies, have become less certain.[30]

[edit] Government and administrative divisions

Ratanakiri has a weak local government and a poor legal framework.[30] Muong Poy, a member of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP),[31] is the provincial governor.[27] Bou Lam is the deputy governor,[32] and Chai Sarouen is the second deputy governor.[33] Commune councils in Ratanakiri are composed of 219 members representing the CPP, 21 members representing the Sam Rainsy Party, and 13 members representing the Funcinpec Party.[34] Political scientist Caroline Hughes has suggested that the CPP's overwhelming dominance in rural areas such as Ratanakiri stems from the central government's ability to suppress collective action, which in urban areas is offset by international donors and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide support for opposition parties.[35] Thirty-six commune council members in Ratanakiri (14.2%) are women,[36] and 98% of Ratanakiri's government staff is Khmer.[37]

The province is subdivided into 9 districts, as follows:

District name ↓ Population (1998)[31] ↓ District code ↓
Andoung Meas (អណ្តូងមាស) 6,896 1601
Banlung (បានលុង) 16,999 1602
Bar Kaev (បាគាវ) 11,758 1603
Koun Mom (កូនមុំ) 8,814 1604
Lumphat (លំផាត់) 10,301 1605
Ou Chum (អូរជុំ) 11,863 1606
Ou Ya Dav (អូរយ៉ាដាវ) 10,898 1607
Ta Veaeng (តាវែង) 4,325 1608
Veun Sai (វើនសៃ) 12,389 1609

[edit] Economy and transportation

Market in Banlung
Market in Banlung

The vast majority of the indigenous peoples of Ratanakiri are subsistence farmers, practicing slash and burn shifting cultivation. (See Culture below for more information on traditional subsistence practices.) Many families are beginning to shift production to cash crops such as cashews, a trend that has accelerated in recent years.[38][19] Larger-scale agriculture occurs on palm, maize, and rubber plantations.[25] Other economic activities in the province include gem mining, commercial logging, and small-scale trading activities.[25] Gems are generally mined using traditional methods, with individuals digging holes and tunnels and manually removing the gems;[25] recently, however, commercial mining operations have been moving into the province.[39] Small quantities of locally-made honey and traditional crafts are also exported from the province.[25]

Road in Ratanakiri
Road in Ratanakiri

Ratanakiri's tourist industry is rapidly expanding.[40] Between 2001 and 2002, annual visitors to Ratanakiri increased from 2,000 to 9,000; in 2003, it was estimated that this figure could grow to 35,000 by 2010.[41] Banlung, with its numerous hotels and guesthouses, is the region's tourist center.[42] The region's tourism development strategy focuses on encouraging ecotourism.[42] Increasing tourism in Ratanakiri has been somewhat problematic because local communities receive very little income from tourism and because guides sometimes bring tourists to villages without residents' consent, disrupting traditional ways of life.[43] A small number of initiatives have aimed to address these problems: a provincial tourism steering committee aims to ensure that tourism is non-destructive, and some programs exist to provide English and tourism skills to indigenous people.[41]

Ox-cart, motorcycle, and walking are common means of transportation in Ratanakiri.[25][44] The province's road system is among the worst in the country; in the wet season, roads are sometimes impassable because of mud.[45][46] In January 2007, construction started on National Road 78 between Banlung and the Vietnam border; the road is expected to increase trade between Cambodia and Vietnam.[47][48] A small airport in Banlung with a laterite runway offers flights between Phnom Penh and Banlung.[49][46] Though the Cambodian government considers service at the airport to be generally reliable,[49] the US government cautions against flying to or from the airport, citing several safety incidents since 2005.[50]

[edit] Demographics and towns

Tampuan children from Ratanakiri Province
Tampuan children from Ratanakiri Province
Ethnic groups in Ratanakiri (1998)

Other Khmer Loeu
Other non-Khmer Loeu

Ratanakiri Province had a population of 94,243 as of 1998, making up approximately 0.8% of Cambodia's total population.[31] Its population density of 9 residents/km² was significantly lower than the national average of 64 residents/km².[31] The population of Ratanakiri is widely dispersed, with most residents living in villages of 100 to 300 people.[51] Banlung, the provincial capital located in the central highlands, is by far the province's largest town, with a population of approximately 17,000.[52] Other significant towns include Veun Sai, which is located in the north on the Se San river and has a population of 2,500,[31] and Lomphat (the former provincial capital), which is located in the south on the Srepok River and has a population of 2,000.[52]

In 1998, 44.4% of Ratanakiri residents were age 14 or younger, 52.1% were age 15 to 64, and 3.5% were age 65 or older; 49.2% of residents were male, and 50.8% were female.[31] Of Ratanakiri residents aged 15 or older, 20.9% were single and had never been married, 71.6% were married, 5.1% were widowed, and 2.4% were divorced or separated.[31] There were 16,646 households in the province, excluding the institutional, homeless, boat, and transient population; each household had an average of 5.6 members.[31] Most households (87.5%) were headed by men; female heads of households were on average older (59.4% aged 40 or above) than male heads of households (48.5% aged 40 or above).[31]

As of 1998, various indigenous minority groups collectively called Khmer Loeu made up approximately 70% of Ratanakiri's population.[53] These groups included the Tampuan (24.3%), Jarai (17.1%), Kreung (16.3%), Brou (7.0%), Kachok (2.7%), Kavet (1.9%), Kuy (0.5%), and Lun (0.1%).[53] Ethnic Khmers make up 19.1% of the population, and Laos make up 9.6%.[53] The remainder consists of Vietnamese (0.7%), Cham (0.6%), and Chinese (0.3%).[53] Since the 1998 census, migration to Ratanakiri from elsewhere in Cambodia has accelerated, which has likely increased the proportion of Khmers in the province.[30] Though the official language of Ratanakiri (like all of Cambodia) is Khmer,[54] each indigenous group speaks its own language.[25] Less than 10% of Ratanakiri's indigenous population can speak Khmer fluently.[55]

[edit] Health, education, and development

Health indicators in Ratanakiri are the worst in Cambodia.[56] Malaria, tuberculosis, intestinal parasites, cholera, diarrhea, and vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles are endemic.[51][56] Rattanakiri has Cambodia's highest rates of maternal and child mortality,[51] with 22.9% of children dying before the age of five.[57] Ratanakiri also has the country's highest rates of severe malnutrition.[51] Ratanakiri residents' poor health can be attributed to a variety of factors, including poverty, physical remoteness, language and cultural barriers between the Khmer Loeu and the Khmer, poor infrastructure and access to water, lack of accountability in the medical community, and exacerbating environmental factors such as natural resource degradation, decreasing food production, and internal migration.[51][56] Medical equipment and supplies are minimal, and most health facilities are staffed by nurses or midwifes, who are often poorly trained and irregularly paid.[58][59] The province has one referral hospital, 10 health centers, and 17 health posts.[58]

Village school in Ratanakiri
Village school in Ratanakiri

Education levels in Ratanakiri, particularly among Khmer Loeu, are very low. A 2002 survey of residents in six villages found that fewer than 10% of respondents had attended any primary school.[60] Only 23.5% of Ratanakiri residents are literate,[55] with lower rates among those living outside Banlung District (15.7%) and among women (15.3%).[31] Poor education in the province can be attributed to difficulties recruiting teachers, a need for children to contribute economically to the family, and the inability of most children to speak Khmer, which has long been the language of instruction.[25] Bilingual education initiatives, in which students begin instruction in native languages and gradually transition to instruction in Khmer, began in Ratanakiri in 2002 and appear to have been successful.[55][61] The programs aim to make education more accessible to speakers of indigenous languages, as well as to give Khmer Loeu access to national political and economic affairs by providing Khmer language skills.[55]

Ratanakiri is one of the least developed provinces in Cambodia, and living conditions are generally poor.[30][62] Most Ratanakiri residents (61.1%) obtain water from springs, streams, ponds, or rain; much of the remainder (32.2%) obtains water from dug wells.[63] Only 5.5% of Ratanakiri residents obtain water from sources that are considered safe (purchased water, piped water, or tube/piped wells).[63] Most households use kerosene lamps and other sources such as oil lamps for lighting,[64] and few (39.5% in Banlung District and 2.1% elsewhere) have toilet facilities.[31] Almost all households (96.2%) use firewood as the main fuel for cooking.[31]

[edit] Culture

See also: Khmer Loeu and Culture of Cambodia
Meeting house in a Kreung village near Banlung
Meeting house in a Kreung village near Banlung

Each of the province's Khmer Loeu ethnic groups has a distinct set of customs and form of social organization,[25] but some generalizations may be made. Khmer Loeu generally practice subsistence slash and burn shifting cultivation in small villages of between 30 and 70 nuclear families.[6][25] Each village collectively owns and governs a forest territory whose boundaries are known though not marked.[6][25][19] Within this land, each family is allocated, on average, 1–2 hectares (2.5–5 acres) of actively cultivated land and 5–6 hectares (12.5–15 acres) of fallow land.[65] The ecologically sustainable cultivation cycle practiced by the Khmer Loeu generally lasts 10 to 15 years.[6] Villagers supplement their agricultural livelihood with a low-intensity system of hunting, fishing, and gathering over a large area.[6][25]

Khmer Loeu diets in Ratanakiri are largely dictated by the food that is available for harvesting or gathering.[66][67] Numerous food taboos also limit food choices, particularly among pregnant women, children, and the sick.[67] The primary staple grain is rice, which is planted from May to July and harvested from October to December.[66] Most families experience shortages of rice between May and November; for this reason, some families have begun to plant maize between each rice harvest and the next rice planting.[66] Other sources of grain include potatoes, cassava, and taro.[66] Most Khmer Loeu diets are low in protein, which is limited in availability. Wild game and fish are major protein sources.[66] Domestic animals such as pigs, cows, and buffaloes are only eaten when sacrifices are made.[66] Smaller animals such as rats and wild chickens are sometimes caught and eaten, as are insects.[66] In the rainy season, many varieties of vegetables and leaves are gathered from the forest.[66] (Generally, no vegetables are cultivated in villages.[66]) Commonly-eaten fruits include bananas, jackfruit, papayas, and mangoes.[66]

Nearly all Khmer Loeu are animist, and their cosmologies are intertwined with the natural world.[6][25][58] Their major sacrificial festivals occur during March and April, when fields are selected and prepared for the new planting season.[66] Christian missionaries are present in the province, and some Khmer Loeu have converted to Christianity.[68][69] Indigenous community representatives have described the missionaries as a major threat to their society.[68] The region's ethnic Khmer are Buddhist.[14][37]

Traditional indigenous crafts include textiles, baskets, mats, pipes, gourds (used as water containers), musical instruments, body ornaments, and amulets.[25]

[edit] Human rights issues

Despite a 2001 law allowing indigenous communities to obtain collective title to traditional lands, land alienation has been a major problem in Ratanakiri; some villages have been left nearly landless.[18] The national government has granted concessions over land traditionally possessed by Ratanakiri's indigenous peoples,[18][70][21] and even land "sales" have often involved bribes to officials, coercion, threats, or misinformation.[18] Following the involvement of several international NGOs, land alienation has decreased in frequency.[71] These NGOs have assisted in the training of provincial government officials, promoting understanding of indigenous community concerns as well as encouraging dialog between the provincial and national governments.[71] Pilot communal land titling projects have aimed to give legal force to traditional land ownership.[72] Community natural resource management initiatives in Ratanakiri have been successful and have served as models for similar programs on a national level.[21][71][41]

More than 1,000 Degar (Montagnard) refugees have entered Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri since 2001, raising issues of Cambodia's international law obligations toward refugees and its right to control its border.[22] The government has a policy of deporting Degar refugees to Vietnam, viewing them as illegal immigrants to the country, and has threatened prosecution of Ratanakiri residents who aid them.[22][73][65] Human rights organizations have described this policy as a violation of Cambodia's international law obligation of non-refoulement (not forcibly returning refugees to a country in which they will be harmed).[22][74] Though the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has become involved processing asylum applications,[22][74] refugees are often forcibly returned before they are able to apply for asylum.[73] Many refugees have hidden in Ratanakiri's forests to avoid deportation.[22][75][76]

[edit] References

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