Rubber plantation workers in Kompong Cham province who lost their jobs seven months ago when their employer cut down and sold the company’s rubber trees say they were thrown off their land Wednesday by military police.
The former residents of Village 35, Bos Khnor commune, Chamkar Leu district, were given three days’ warning before police toting rifles arrived Wednesday with trucks and began to dismantle 115 houses.
“Now we sleep exposed to the weather and we have no rice,” said Chat Chun, a 32-year-old father of two.
The forced evacuation was ordered by the Kompong Cham provincial court on March 14 after the privately owned Chamka Andong company filed a complaint about the workers with the court.
The evacuation was mostly peaceful, despite the villagers’ protests, because the police were brandishing rifles and ammunition, Chat Chun said.
A woman five months pregnant, who had come to Phnom Penh Thursday, displayed a fresh scar on her chest that she said she received when she was grabbed while trying to retrieve her kitchen plates from police.
Human rights observers from Licadho and Legal Aid of Cambodia monitored the evacuation and are assisting the laborers.
Some of the workers said Thursday they were surprised that they were forced off their land since it was only several months ago that Prime Minister Hun Sen came to their plantation and voiced support for them.
Hun Sen said the company should do whatever it could to protect the workers’ jobs, Chat Chun said.
One month after the prime minister’s speech, the Cambodian-owned Chamka Andong rubber company cut all of its trees and sold them to the Mutapheap company, the workers said. The company was supposed to plant new trees on the land, but so far no new trees have appeared.
Villagers originally had been told they would be allowed to move their houses, so Chat Chun and others tried to lift the wooden platforms of a neighbor’s house and move it closer to the road that cut through their village, in hopes they could somehow move the house with a vehicle. Police dismantled the house when they arrived Wednesday.
Most of the families are sleeping in the open near Village 35, Chat Chun said. The police returned Wednesday night to arrest the men still living there, but all of the men fled and no one went to jail, Chat Chun. said.
Nearby villagers do not want to help the homeless laborers because they are afraid they will lose their land if they do, he said.
(Additional reporting by Kim Chan)