400 Villagers in Pursat Protest Unfair Pheapimex Land Clearing

krakor district, Pursat province – About 400 villagers set up a roadblock here on Saturday in an attempt to stop machinery from the company Pheapimex that they claimed was about to clear a local forest.

Hundreds of villagers in the area began staging protests in mid-October, saying that Pheapimex, which maintains a massive economic land concession covering parts of Pursat and Kompong Chhnang, had been clearing forests and farmland that locals depend on to make way for cassava and acacia plantations.

Loeng Phin, who participated in the protest in Ansar Chambak commune, said the protesters gathered to block the road at 8 am, when they knew plows were arriving to clear a forest villagers use to grow their own crops.

They then met again at the commune police station to lodge a complaint against Pheapimex.

“The authorities and Pheapimex never specifically identified the areas they are saying will be torn down,” said Ms Phin. “So we peacefully set up a roadblock on National Road 5, which lasted for nearly two hours, and demanded a solution to the threat, clearly distinguishing what the boundaries are.”

Another villager, who would only give his name as Thorn out of fear of arrest, said Pheapimex had been clearing occupied farmland without providing any compensation for inhabitants.

“Villagers are here suffering and often crying at what Pheapimex is doing,” he said. “We will have nothing if they continue to clear our land.”

Authorities in Ansar Chambak commune said yesterday that they were unaware of the protest.

“[On Monday] I will be calling villagers into my office to try and find a solution to this problem,” said Ansar Chambak commune chief Lanh Sithorn.

Eng Chhun Han, a provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said villagers had protested until about 11:30 am without any clear resolution. “A lot of these villagers do not have land titles or certificates, making it difficult to prove ownership,” he said yesterday. “Involved companies and the authorities need to intervene in order to solve the problem.”

Pheapimex representative Ty Kim Toc said he was unfamiliar with the situation and declined to comment further.

Pheapimex since 1997 has amassed over 316,000 hectares of economic land concessions in Pursat and Kompong Chhnang, 31 times larger than the legal limit set in 2005 by the Ministry of Agriculture.


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