Outraged farmers and community forestry activists in Pursat and Kampong Chhnang provinces have threatened to hold violent demonstrations against Pheapimex Co Ltd after the company allegedly cut 300 trees that had been blessed by Buddhist monks.
More than 1,000 villagers in the two provinces held a ceremony on Jan 5 in which monks blessed and hung saffron-colored robes from hundreds of trees so they would not be cut.
Less than three days later, Pheapimex started cutting the trees, said community representative Kuch Veng.
“I have tried to persuade the villagers in Krakor district (in Pursat) to calm down,” he said, “but they have threatened to hold violent demonstrations after several peaceful…protests were fruitless.”
Villagers are also upset that police have not found those responsible for a grenade attack that wounded eight people during a peaceful protest on Nov 13, farmer Keo Sito said. The villagers were sleeping in hammocks while protesting against the clearing of forest for a paper plantation in Angsar Chambak commune.
“I am very clear that police can identify those attackers but police refuse to arrest them,” Keo Sito said. Police have maintained they are continuing their investigation and deny any knowledge of those responsible.
Krakor district police Chief Bin Vanna warned the villagers against violent demonstrations, saying it is illegal and police will have the right to intercede to keep order and guard national security.
“Police are investigating the grenade attack,” he said. “Villagers should think again about holding violent demonstrations because it will not be to their advantage.”
Kuch Veng said demonstrations, which will be held soon, are the only option left for villagers to tell Prime Minister Hun Sen that his poverty reduction program involving granting companies land concessions is only making the average person poorer.
“I want to inform Samdech Hun Sen that the forestry concession with Pheapimex is not an acceptable strategy to reduce poverty, but is pushing poor people further into poverty,” he said.