The conflict between the Chinese concession company Wuzhishan LS Group and the Phnong hilltribe of Mondolkiri province took a new turn on Tuesday when more than 60 ethnic minority members blocked a road in Dak Dam commune and seized two of the company’s trucks.
The Phnong villagers kept the trucks, carrying some 200 Wuzhishan workers, immobilized for about one hour before releasing both the vehicles and the employees on the request of local police officers, officials said.
“They confiscated trucks transporting about 200 Wuzhishan workers to prevent them from working in the area where they claim the company has destroyed their farmland and spirit forest,” O’Reang district Governor Ngam Pheng said.
The workers were later taken to the provincial government offices, he said.
Mondolkiri provincial Governor Thou Son said police will take action if more roads are blockaded in the province.
“It was not the authority of those people to block the road. [Wuzhishan] has the right to plant the pine trees,” he said, adding that a small group of conspirators were behind what has become rare public protests by the country’s ethnic minorities.
Thou Son branded the protestors, “a small group of people who want to grab the government’s land.”
Provincial officials said Sunday that the Council of Ministers ordered the company to suspend work on the disputed land. But Wuzhishan’s activities have not stopped in the province, said Em Veasna, a local human rights worker.
“The people have lost confidence in the government and local authorities, which is why they decided to stop the company’s activities themselves,” Em Veasna said, adding that between 60 to 100 villagers are monitoring the movements of the company’s trucks.
Chan Soveth, an Adhoc investigator and representative of the Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 18 NGOs, said the Council of Ministers’ letter dated June 17 orders Wuzhishan to suspend all work.
Thou Son, however, said Wuzhishan has the right to continue plant-ing pine trees in its concession while the extent of the hilltribe land is being determined.