M’kiri Villagers Clash With Developers in Dispute

Villagers in Mondolkiri province’s Pech Chreada district clashed with developers and stopped them, albeit temporarily, from clearing what the residents claim is their farmland, human rights workers and villagers said Monday.

More than 100 ethnic Bunong villagers traveled Thursday to halt the DTC Co Ltd’s clearing of forest, according to villager representative Krist Van.

“If we lose the rotational farmland, indigenous villagers will have no other way to make a living,” he said, adding that residents felt intimidated during a Friday meeting with Dep­uty Provincial Governor Tann Navan to discuss their complaint.

He al­legedly told the villagers that the government had granted permission to DTC to clear the land and the project could not be stopped.

Tann Navan said he was too busy to speak with a reporter Monday.

Tan Buthoeun, a representative for DTC, said Monday that the company had permission to plant rubber trees on more than 4,000 hectares of land and had started clearing a boundary around the future project.

“We have permission from the government for development,” he said, before declining to comment further.

Villagers from Krang Tes and Pou Chrei communes claim they own more than 2,000 hectares of the land the company is seeking to farm.

They are in the process of counting the exact number of families affected by the project so they can file a formal complaint and ask for help from Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“I’ve got no hope to get help from the provincial authority as they seem to work in favor of the company’s interest,” Krist Van said.

Em Veasna, provincial investigator for the local rights group Vigilance of Cambodia, said several groups of ethnic minority villagers in Mondol­kiri province are struggling to retain access to farmland that businesses are clearing in earnest.

He said the government needs to better understand these projects and their future effects on the surrounding communities before approving them.

“I believe the government has never conducted a proper social and environmental impact assessment, which is why there are always reactions from villagers affected by those projects,” he said.

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