About 100 ethnic Bunong in Mondolkiri province protested outside the local office of French-owned rubber firm Socfin KCD on Wednesday, threatening to cut down its rubber trees if their ancestral lands were not returned.
Klang Pho, 34, a villager from Pech Chreada district’s Bosra commune, said residents of seven villages in the commune gathered outside the Socfin office demanding that their land be returned.
According to Mr. Pho, Socfin—which was granted an economic land concession in 2008—originally offered villagers 2 to 3 hectares of land in exchange for the plots the villagers were living on and farming.
“But we cannot use this land to cultivate rice because the land is at the foot of the mountain and is full of rocks,” Mr. Pho said.
He added that in 2008, Socfin threatened to clear the villagers’ land even if they did not accept the new plots or the $200 per hectare the company was offering.
“We had no choice but to [accept] it,” he said.
Mr. Pho said the villagers want to be given ownership of their ancestral land, and would be willing to lease it back to Socfin.
But when Mr. Pho and six other village representatives met with the company Wednesday, no solution was reached.
“We offered two weeks to the company to find a solution for us, but if they do not find a solution within that period we will chop down the rubber plantation to take back our farmland,” he said.
Leang Sattia, Socfin’s chief of administration, declined to comment.
Kham Dara, deputy governor of Pech Chreada district, said he would organize further negotiations between Socfin and about 1,000 families in Bosra commune who want their land back.
Neth Prak, a Bosra villager who helped organize the protest, said they chose Wednesday to approach the company because Socfin and its majority shareholder, the Bollore Group, were set to have their annual shareholder meeting in Paris on Wednesday.
Mr. Prak added that communities in Cameroon, Liberia and the Ivory Coast also held similar protests against Socfin plantations in their countries.
“We just wanted to remind them that we have some problems with them,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Chris Mueller)
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