Farmers Accuse Mining Company of Threatening Land Grab

Some 300 farmers protested for a second day at their local commune office in Preah Vihear province Thursday against a mining company they accuse of threatening to steal their land unless they accepted its compensation offer to relocate.

The Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy granted the firm TPBTV Development a license to explore for marble in Rovieng district’s Romdoh commune on November 20, according to a copy of the license. The dispute arose after the firm’s attempts to acquire additional land beyond the licensed area’s borders.

Koun Sokun, one of the protesters, said 278 affected families were refusing the firm’s offer of $1,000 per hectare to move off their land, and that company representatives had begun threatening to take their land anyway.

“We protested today to demand that the company move out of this area because the stone exploration project will affect our farming,” said Mr. Sokun, who has been farming on his land since 2005.

“We strongly oppose the stone exploration company because the people’s living standards depend on their farmland.”

Commune chief Sam Phearak said Thursday’s protest in front of his office was the second since Sunday.

“I think that the firm will harm those families who own farmland if the upper levels [of government] have no solution for them,” he said.

TPBTV owner Kim Sophin confirmed that she was recently granted the exploration license but said the land dispute was no concern of hers.

“I have no idea how to find a solution for these people because the ministry gave this land to my company,” she said before declining further comment and referring additional questions to her manager, Sin Nhor.

Mr. Nhor confirmed that the firm was offering $1,000 per hectare to acquire land outside the licensed 9,000-hectare area but denied that landowners were being coerced into accepting.

“We do not use the word ‘buy,’ but we planned to pay $1,000 for compensation,” he said. “But we would be able to pay $1,500 after negotiations with all the villagers.”

Kong Makara, who heads the provincial government’s industry, mines and energy department, said he would ask the central government to intervene and settle the dispute.

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