About 50 members of Ratanakkiri province’s disbanded rubber plantation collectives demonstrated Monday outside the Justice Ministry in Phnom Penh, saying another rubber trader in the province had forged documents to convince the government to dissolve the groups.
The protest followed a larger demonstration held Sunday by the “solidarity groups”outside the Takhmau town home of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The protesters are demanding the repeal of a government order disbanding the groups.
The solidarity groups, which were officially retired last week, had acted as middlemen collecting the resin produced by rubber tappers on 1,300 hectares of plantations, which they then sold at a profit to the Tai Seng Co.
Officials and rights workers say the solidarity groups are no longer cooperatives but have instead become exploitative commercial enterprises trying to profit from what had until recently been exclusive control of resin produced on the state-owned plantations.
The Agriculture Ministry has since sought to put Tai Seng in direct control of the plantations and offer the plantation workers a greater share of the revenues they generate.
Chhe Chan, a representative of the Solidarity Groups, claimed Sunday that the Tai Seng firm had forged a statement sent to the Agriculture Ministry by solidarity group workers claiming that they were being exploited. It was the supposedly forged document that spurred the ministry to disband the groups, he claimed.
Officials from Hun Sen’s Cabinet, the Justice Ministry and Tai Seng Co could not be reached for comment Monday.
However Ly Phalla, director-general for rubber at the Agriculture Ministry, said the ministry had made its final decision on the issue, and the complaint had nothing to do with the decision to end the groups. Solidarity group workers now have until Wednesday to vacate the plantations or agree to work for Tai Seng, Ly Phalla said.
(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)