After overseeing the destruction of all but six of 172 temporary shelters that had been erected on farmland claimed by an ethnic Bunong community in Mondolkiri province on Tuesday, authorities returned to destroy the remaining structures Wednesday, again on the grounds that the land belonged to a Vietnamese rubber company.
But while Bunong farmers said they scared away the police and military police who arrived to finish the job, a local official said the officers were successful in their task.
Khun Vanny, 55, whose shelter was among those razed on the disputed plot in Keo Seima district’s Sre Chhouk commune on Tuesday, said that about 200 members of the minority community Wednesday protected the last six.
“We saw about 30 police and military police arrive this morning …attempting to burn the rest of the shelters, but they turned back after they saw hundreds of people gathered on the land carrying axes and machetes,” Ms. Vanny said.
“We all together prepared 10 bags of rocks…to attack the police vehicles if they attempted to get onto the land,” she added.
Ms. Vanny’s family is one of more than 200 that say they have been living and farming in Sre Chhouk commune for generations. Local authorities, however, say the families are squatting on a 5,100-hectare concession that was granted to the Binh Phuoc 1 company in 2012.
District governor Sin Vanvuth said Wednesday that police and military police did, in fact, destroy the remaining shelters, which are used by farmers during the day.
He said the Vietnamese firm recently offered the villagers 375 hectares of the concession, but that a group of “newcomers” had since settled in the area, taking a further 125 hectares for themselves.
“The newcomers came to stay on the land and incited ethnic minority people to protest against the company because they want to occupy the cleared land,” he said.