About 600 people involved in a land dispute with a company in Kratie province’s Snuol district blocked traffic yesterday morning to keep tractors from clearing trees inside a contested forest, villagers said.
Math Chhi, one of the protesters, said the villagers dragged wood and makeshift huts onto Road 76A at about 8 am after they saw three bulldozers belonging to the Sovann Vuthy Rubber Company approaching the contested land near their village in Pi Thnou commune.
Mam Hay, another protester, said the roadblock was removed about three hours later after the company agreed to withdraw the bulldozers.
District governor Iv Saphum said the company had set aside 2,251 hectares of its 7,251-hectare concession for the villagers but that the situation was being complicated by an influx of newcomers.
“We are trying to resolve the problem and to avoid any violence,” he said.
Mr Saphum said the company was the victim in this case, alleging that some of the protesters were clearing forestland inside a legal concession but then accusing the firm of grabbing their land.
But the human rights group Adhoc said the rubber company was encroaching on land rightfully belonging to the villagers.
Adhoc land program officer Ouch Leng said a growing number of economic land concessions in the area were only exacerbating the situation and that villagers were using the roadblocks in hopes of catching the government’s attention.
“More economic land concessions are being granted regardless of the affects on the villagers’ land, and this will worsen the situation,” he said.
Mr Leng said 83 such concessions had been granted in the province already. Mr Saphum said 21 were in his district alone.
Representatives for the Sovann Vuthy Rubber Company were unavailable. The firm has received two concessions inside the Snuol Wildlife Sanctuary since 2008 that allow it to clear about 12,000 hectares of forest and farmland used by hundreds of Stieng and Banong ethnic minority families.
— Kratie Villagers Block Road to Stop Clearing