Vietnamese rubber giant razes indigenous lands as Cambodian government grapples with legacy land issues

While indigenous communities in Cambodia stayed home to stem the Covid-19 outbreak, a Vietnamese rubber firm bulldozed their land. Experts say disputes arising from Cambodia's complicated land management system will be difficult to resolve.

When the indigenous Kreung and Kachok communities locked down their villages in Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province in March to keep safe from the novel coronavirus, no one knew change was afoot in their ancestral forest.

While the families in the Muoy, Inn, Mas and Kak villages were sheltering in place, Vietnamese rubber giant Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) bulldozed land earmarked for return to the communities after years of tough negotiations involving local authorities, the company, village representatives and rights groups, according to Cambodian non-governmental organisation Equitable Cambodia.

In March last year, Ratanakiri’s governor requested that the Cambodian agriculture ministry return 742 hectares of customary land wrongly included in HAGL’s agricultural land concessions to 12 communities following a government-led demarcation process launched two years ago.

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