Hoes, knives, sticks and the overwhelming presence of more than 800 farmworkers were used to break through a weeklong blockade in Mondolkiri province that Phnong minority villagers had hoped would prevent a Chinese pulp-wood company from planting pine trees on their traditional land.
The dismantling of the three road blockades took place at about 3 pm on Monday in O’Reang district’s Dak Dam commune. It was organized by Wuzhishan LS Group, the Chinese company that has been planting baby pine trees throughout the province since last year, according to Chan Soveth, an investigator with human rights NGO Adhoc.
Some 60 Phnong villagers were guarding the blockades at the time, Chan Soveth said, adding that no one was hurt.
The workers, most of whom are Khmer and were hired last year from Kompong Cham and Prey Veng provinces to work in Mondolkiri, were transported to Dak Dam aboard 17 trucks and were joined by the province’s Second Deputy Governor Sok Ron, Chan Soveth said.
The minority villagers were angered by the workers who “shouted joyfully” as they tore apart their blockades made of bound-together branches, logs and tree trunks, he said.
“The villagers only watched the clearing of the blockades and did not dare to fight back because they were afraid of the second deputy provincial governor,” he said.
Sok Ron could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Phnong villagers in neighboring Sen Monorom commune continue to guard their road blockades, Chan Soveth said. The investigator visited Dak Dam on Tuesday, interviewing villagers about Monday’s incident.
“Those workers dared to use hoes, knives and sticks to destroy the blockade in front of a provincial official,” Krang Chhe, a 32-year-old Sen Monorom commune resident, said by phone on Tuesday.
“So some day they could beat us or kill us,” he said.
Mondolkiri Governor Thou Son also traveled to Dak Dam, located about 10 km from the provincial capital, Sen Monorom, along a one-lane dirt road, on Tuesday to try to persuade villagers to not construct more blockades, Chan Soveth said.
“He told the villagers that blocking the road is illegal, so he could order armed forces to crack down at any time.”
Thou Son could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Phnong leaders in Dak Dam met with villagers on Tuesday to discuss their next course of action against Wuzhishan, Chan Soveth said.
Em Veasna, an investigator in Mondolkiri for the NGO Human Rights Vigilance of Cambodia, predicted that the blockades in Sen Monorom commune would also be dismantled in the coming days.
“I am very worried that the authorities allowed the workers to use knives, hoes and sticks,” he said.
“The minority people of Sen Monorom commune have said that they would protest until the end of their life,” he added.