Twenty-one villager representatives in Mondolkiri province’s Keo Seima district met Sunday with Land Management Minister Im Chhun Lim to discuss an ongoing dispute over a proposed 5,000-hectare land concession awarded to commodities tycoon and CPP Senator Mong Reththy, villagers and officials said yesterday.
According to District Governor Sin Vanvuth, who was one of 20 officials from land management, environmental and agricultural bodies in attendance at the meeting, Mr Chhun Lim sought to reassure villagers about a recent census that was conducted to determine how many families would be affected by the concession.
The census sparked a December protest and reignited tensions in the area after villagers began to fear that authorities were obtaining the information in order to confiscate their land, which they say is overlapped by the concession.
Mr Chhun Lim said that the census, having surveyed 80 percent of the total population in four possible affected villagers in Sre Khtum commune, has shown that more than 600 families will be affected by the rubber plantation concession, which was granted two years ago to Mr Reththy.
“The minister also told villagers that government policy is to alleviate poverty by encouraging private investors to develop rural areas, especially to create employment for local residents,” Mr Vanvuth added.
“Of course investment is a key factor in alleviating poverty,” said villager representative Puth Him, who attended Sunday’s meeting. “But the authorities must get our support first to make sure that development is not taking villagers’ farmland and giving it to a tycoon.”
Villager representative Buth Bun Hong, who was also present at Sunday’s meeting, said that he was scheduled to meet with villagers today and tomorrow to convey what was discussed.
“I don’t know if villagers will be calm or continue protesting,” Mr Bun Hong said, adding that he believed that 70 percent of the land concession was actually villagers’ farmland.