Ministry To Dissolve R’kiri’s Solidarity Groups

The Agriculture Ministry has an­nounced its decision to dissolve the 34 “solidarity groups” that operate state-owned but privately managed rubber plantations in Ratanak­kiri province.

Solidarity groups were formed in the 1980s to take care of the day-to-day running of state-owned rubber plantations in the province.

In 2000, the government privatized the plantations in Ratanakkiri, selling the rights to harvest the resin to private company Tai Seng Rubber Co. By virtue of that concession, plantation workers were required by law to sell resin to solidarity group chiefs who then, in turn, were bound to sell the resin exclusively to Tai Seng.

For years, the solidarity groups were accused of paying rubber wor­kers only about half of what the resin was worth, and then selling it to Tai Seng themselves for a tidy profit.

According to a copy of the Oct 22 decision dissolving the solidarity groups, which was signed by Agri­culture Minister Chan Sarun, the roughly 1,000 workers on the Ra­tanakkiri plantations will now be un­der the direct control of Tai Seng.

Tai Seng must cooperate with lo­cal authorities and the rubber plantation department director-general in reorganizing the villages and plan­tation workers formerly under the solidarity groups, according to the directive, which was received Tuesday.

Chan Sarun could not be contacted Tuesday. Agriculture Minis­try Secretary of State Teng Lao and Un­dersecretary of State Uk Sok­honn both said Tuesday that they were unaware of the decision in question.

Tai Seng company director Ly Hong Sin said Tuesday that the decision would ultimately benefit plantation workers as Tai Seng will now pay them 85 percent of the resin’s market value.

“The workers’ living conditions will be better,” he said, adding that he didn’t know when the order would go into effect.

Chhe Chan, co-owner of Soli­darity Group 14, accused the Tai Seng company on Tuesday of sen­ding Chan Sarun a petition to dissolve the groups that contained forged workers’ thumbprints.

“This is robbery in a legal way. It will ruin people’s careers and it is against the government policy,” Chhe Chan said.

Ly Hong Sin denied the accusations and added that, according to the 2000 government concession agreement, the Agriculture Minis­try has put the workers under Tai Seng’s control.

“I have been asking for this for three or four years,” he said. “I am re­sponsible.”

Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said that Chan Sarun’s decision would make plantation workers better off.

“The [Tai Seng] company has promised to pay 85 percent, so it is better than the 50 or 55 percent [paid by the solidarity group chiefs],” he said.

“It will be a level they have never received from the solidarity groups.”

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