CPP Senator and business tycoon Mong Reththy, CEO of the Mong Reththy Group, announced yesterday that he has begun work on a 5,000-hectare rubber plantation located on contested land in Mondolkiri province.
Last December, roughly 1,000 angry families in Keo Seima district protested the proposed plantation, claiming that Mr Reththy’s government-granted concession in the Snuol Wildlife Sanctuary overlaps with land they’ve farmed for years. The land concession was given to the Reththy Kiri Seima Company, a Mong Reththy Group firm, early last year.
“While the protests lasted, we didn’t begin the rubber plantation project, but it didn’t mean we were going to abandon the land concession,” Mr Reththy said, adding that he plans to invest $20 million in the plantation.
According to Mr Reththy, his company’s presence in Sre Khtum commune could be beneficial to local villagers because he plans to build roads, schools and hospitals for his employees.
“I will be there to offer jobs and to contribute to the government’s efforts to alleviate poverty in the countryside,” Mr Reththy said.
Keo Seima district governor Sin Vanvuth said yesterday that though he welcomes development in the area, the land conflicts still need to be resolved.
“Most of the affected farmland where the concession overlaps is still being occupied by police and military police,” Mr Vanvuth said, adding that villagers farming on state land in the forest have refused to cooperate with plans to clear the land.
Mr Vanvuth said just because some of the affected farmers lack documentation to prove ownership of the land doesn’t mean they have no claim to it. “They have been using it for many years,” he said.
Sieng Chhouk, a Stieng ethnic minority villager, said areas of the forest have been farmed since 2006.
“Just small pieces of our farmland is affected,” said Mr Chhouk. “The company promises to offer us bigger plots of land when they discover our land and theirs overlaps.”