Environment Officials Investigate Land Deal

Officials from the Ministry of En­vironment traveled to Mon­dolkiri province’s restive O’Reang district on Saturday to conduct an environmental and social impact as­sess­ment of the controversial land concession granted to Chi­nese company Wuzhishan LS Group.

By Sunday, the officials were able to announce that the pine tree plantation company has not had a negative impact on the environment, but does have problems with the district’s demanding ethnic minority villagers.

Five Phnom Penh environmental officials visited O’Reang district’s Sen Monorom commune to in­terview villagers about the land con­cession, Mondolkiri En­viron­mental Department Director Chhith Sophal said.

“The environmental impact as­sessment found no problems, but there is social impact,” Chhith Sophal said.

“It is a very complex matter be­cause those villagers want too large an amount of land to be re­served as spirit forest, graves and farmland,” he said.

Chhith Sophal said the villagers were too poorly educated to un­der­stand development policies and their demands for land were in accordance with their antiquated traditions.

“These lands were used by their ancestors, but it has not been used for farming or other activities for a long time,” he said.

Mondolkiri Governor Thou Son said the disputed land would soon be divided despite villagers’ disagreement. He also claimed that some Phnong had made reasonable demands of only a few kilometers of land to be protected around their villages, but others had requested as much as 10 km.

“Only a few villagers disagree with our provincial measurement, because they have been incited by some troublemakers,” he said.

Human Rights Vigilance of Cam­bodia investigator Em Veas­na said that officials have previously alleged that the local minorities were too demanding and uneducated.

“Government officials have tried to blame the villagers for misunderstanding development and ac­cuse them of demanding too much land,” he said.

Sen Monorom commune council member and local activist Hor Phlil also accused officials of siding with the interests of the Chi­nese company.

“They come to get reactions, but in the end those officials collude with the Chinese company to in­stall posts defining boundaries between the company’s land and villagers’ land despite a lack of agreement from villagers,” he said.

The Phnong practice swidden farming, which rotates between fields, leaving some fallow for extended periods of time before it is farmed again. They also rely on forests for both religious and economic purposes, collecting food and other products.


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