More than 250 ethnic Jarai families living in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district filed a complaint with rights group Adhoc yesterday, after local officials demanded that the villagers apply for private land titles to protect their property from two Vietnamese rubber companies currently clearing their land, residents and rights workers said.
Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for Adhoc, said the complaint was filed by six representatives of the families who live on 300 hectares of land in Paknhai commune’s Lom village.
“Today, the representatives came to my office and filed the complaint, asking my organization to intervene to stop the local authorities from forcing villagers to register for private land titles, as well as to stop the clearing activity of the companies,” Mr. Thy said.
Seav Vinh, chief of the Paknhai commune forestry protection committee, said that commune-level officials threatened to give all of the Jarai villagers’ land to the Vietnamese companies if the residents of Lom village did not agree to have their land measured for private titles by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s student volunteers.
“Authorities threatened people, saying that if they cannot find a solution, they would not be responsible for any problem that arises, because anyone can occupy the area if villagers wait for a community land title,” Mr. Vinh said
Commune chief Rochong Lich denied that he had strong-armed the villagers to prevent them from applying for communal lands titles, but he did reaffirm that the Jarai community now lives on land that the government gave to the Vietnamese rubber companies.
“We did not force the villagers to register for private land titles,” Mr. Lich said. “We just wanted to help them in measuring land to avoid land disputes, as all of them are living on the land of two companies.”
Mr. Lich said that Land Management officials, district authorities and student volunteers visited the community last month to explain the benefits of private land titles, adding that about 70 of the more than 250 families living in the area had decided to apply for the titles.
Lom village residents said yesterday that those who had applied for private titles only did so begrudgingly, and out of fear that they would lose all their land if they wait for the extremely rare communal titles—only three of which have been issued by the government in more than a decade.
Adhoc’s Mr. Thy said the two rubber companies who have been given the Jarai land in O’Yadaw district—Company 72 and Day Dong Yoeung—-began clearing a 100-meter-by-3,000-meter swath of forest in Lom village a month ago, and have also been logging the area. In 2007, the government granted the Vietnamese firms 6,000-hectare and 4,000-hectare economic land concessions, respectively.
“We found more than 60 logs of luxury wood [lying] in the forest of their economic land concession while investigating the land clearing,” Mr. Thy said yesterday.
“I have seen with my own eyes that the companies on Tuesday used two trucks to transport logs to Vietnam during the nighttime, and I have also taken pictures as evidence,” said Lom villager Romash Svit, 47.
Sek Sophorn, national project coordinator for the International Labor Organization, said that across Ratanakkiri province, local officials have been pushing for ethnic minorities to accept private land titles, even though such officials fully understand the benefits of communal titles for the area’s ethnic minority communities.
“They never encourage anyone to accept collective” land titles, Mr. Sophorn said.