Six bulldozers and tractors belonging to a Chinese company were set ablaze on the company’s economic land concession in Banteay Meanchey province late Sunday night, local police said Monday.
Banteay Chhmar commune police chief Pich Vantha said the company, which has a concession for 6,000 hectares across Banteay Meanchey and Oddar Meanchey provinces, brought tractors and bulldozers onto the land on Friday to begin cultivating cassava.
“The company’s machines had gasoline poured on them and then they were set on fire,” said Mr. Vantha. “We don’t have any information about the suspects yet.”
Villagers from the two provinces have staged a number of protests since the concession was granted in 2009, claiming they had lived on and cultivated the land since the 1980s. In Thmar Puok district, the villagers involved in the dispute were given 2,500 hectares of land in 2013 through Prime Minister Hun Sen’s land-titling project.
“The arson has nothing to do with the land dispute with local villagers since the conflict was solved last year,” said district councilor Yort Ray. “There are suspicions of an internal dispute within the company.”
Mr. Ray said some 2,000 hectares have already been planted with cassava and the arson occurred on a part of the concession on which the company is trying to plow the land for further planting.
Sarin Ry, a villager involved in the Banteay Meanchey dispute, confirmed that the dispute in his province was solved, but said villagers in Oddar Meanchey province are still battling the company.
“Regarding the arson on the company’s machinery, we express our sorrow for their loss and we want the perpetrators to be caught soon to prove villagers who used to battle with the firm over land are innocent,” said Mr. Ry.
Company officials could not be reached for comment.