More than 700 villagers from five provinces on Thursday protested in front of the provincial government headquarters in Kompong Chhnang after losing their community forests to large agro-industry firms.
Organized by the Cambodian Grassroots People’s Assembly—a network of communities that includes forestry and land activists as well as fishermen—people from Kompong Chhnang, Pursat, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey and Pailin provinces, listened to speeches from community leaders about the threat villagers across the country face from land evictions.
Yin Pech, a member of the Phnom Kok Network in Kompong Chhnang, which advocates for villagers affected by economic land concessions and evictions, said her community has been fighting to cancel a land concession over 1,800 hectares of forestland in Boribor district owned by the well-connected Pheapimex company.
“But our request has never been approved because [authorities] claimed that the area we proposed for protection of forest is situated inside a concession area belonging to Pheapimex company,” Ms. Pech said, adding that student volunteers have since measured 1,400 hectares of this land to provide to villagers.
“We are asking to protect the remaining 400 hectares since our people rely on the forest to collect products and subproducts to make a living,” she said, adding that non-timber forest products make up a large part of the community’s livelihood.
Ly Pisey, a representative for Social Action for Change, an organization run by the American Jewish World Service, said members of the ruling CPP, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and Funcinpec were invited, but only a CNRP representative showed up.
“The M.P.s [members of Parliament] are elected by the people and they have to be responsible for the people’s problems. They are legitimate leaders, and they would lose their legitimacy if they don’t show up and if they don’t solve our problems,” Ms. Pisey said.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann confirmed that Ky Vandara, the chairman of the party’s working group in the province, was assigned to attend the event. “The problems of the Cambodian people are our problems; we are M.P.s and we must help them,” Mr. Sovann said.