Ethnic Jarai villagers in Ratanakkiri province have once again accused the Vietnamese owners of a rubber plantation of illegally logging their ancestral forests in a complaint filed with rights group Adhoc.
A district official, however, said the plantation owner, Company 72, was granted an extension on its existing 6,000-hectare concession, and was therefore logging within its bounds.
Romash Svat, a resident of O’Yadaw district’s Paknhai commune, said he spotted the company’s employees at work in the forest a few weeks ago after what had been a roughly yearlong hiatus sparked by a previous confrontation. When he returned to the spot on Saturday with 24 fellow villagers, he said they found 20 people felling trees in their ancestral forest.
“We asked the workers to stop cutting down the trees in this forest,” he said. “But they did not listen to us. We confiscated a chainsaw from one of the workers. They came to ask for it back, but we did not agree to return it.”
Fellow Jarai villager Romash Svang accused Company 72 of setting up a large mill with five large saws earlier this month and said that workers there tried to grab villagers’ cameras when they went to inspect the operations on Friday.
“The workers tried to confiscate our cameras when we were taking photos of them cutting wood, but we did not let them take them,” he said.
Company representatives could not be reached for comment.
District governor Dork Sar, however, said the logging and the sawmill were all legal thanks to a 1,000-hectare addition the plantation was granted earlier this year.
“I think the company has done nothing wrong because it is just logging inside the forest land granted by the government, but the villagers don’t understand and they oppose the project,” he said. “We have no plans to stop the logging.”
Mr. Sar said he did not know exactly when the addition was granted and refused to say exactly which government agency approved it.
Amid mounting criticism of forced evictions caused by industrial-scale plantations, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered a freeze on the granting of additional economic land concession in mid-2012.
Though the 1,000 hectares granted to Company 72 were technically an addition to an existing concession, Chhay Thy, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said it should count as a violation of the prime minister’s order.
“The government’s implementation is contrary to the old policy …so it violates the law,” he said.