Official Warns Hilltribe Over Land Protests

Phnong hilltribe villagers continued to demonstrate against Chin­ese pulp company Wu­zhi­shan LS Group on Thurs­day, preventing trucks carrying workers from en­tering a work site in Mondolkiri province for the se­c­ond time this week, officials said.

Two trucks carrying more than 50 Wuzhishan workers were forced to stop in O’Reang district by some 60 Phnong villagers who blocked the road, said Vann Ngach, a member of the Dak Dam com­mune council.

Police were dispatched but the villagers refused to end the blockade, and the trucks eventually re­turned to the provincial capital, Sen Monorom, Vann Ngach said.

The continuing protests by ethnic minority villagers have spark­ed concerns that the situation may deteriorate amid threats by Mon­dolkiri Governor Thou Son that the protesters will be punished.

“The acts of blocking the roads and confiscating the trucks and detaining the workers are illegal acts,” Thou Son said by telephone.

“Both ordinary people and government officials should be punished if they commit crimes,” he said.

On Tuesday, around 60 Phnong villagers surrounded two trucks carrying some 200 plantation workers before releasing the trucks and passengers at the request of police. Earlier this month, police used water hoses to break ups protest by some 800 minority members.

Vann Ngach warned that Phnong villagers were increasingly frustrated at the province’s non-enforcement of last week’s order by the Council of Minister for Wuzhishan to cease operations until the disputes with local villagers were settled.

“If the company continues transporting workers and pine trees to various camps, it could make the minority villagers angrier and could cause a bloody reaction some day,” he said.

Wuzhishan has been granted an initial 10,000-hectare land concession to plant pine trees with the intention of increasing to 199,999 hectares.

Local villagers claim the company has encroached on their farm lands, spirit forests and cemeteries, and pesticides used by the company have sickened locals and their livestock.

A Mondolkiri provincial military police official alleged on Thursday that the company has violated the Council of Ministers order, and transported 30 workers to plant pine trees at night to avoid the villagers.

The officer, who request anonymity, claimed that Thou Son plans to crack down on the protesting villagers, though police and military police do not support the idea.

“No one wants to hurt the villagers,” the officer said.

“We are Cambodian and we should not create bloody fighting with Cambodian people.”

Last month, villagers, NGOs and government officials met with company representatives in what was described as a “fruitless” meeting.

The threat of escalating protests prompted the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee to release a statement Thursday condemning the concession and warning the group is “actively monitoring the land dispute, including all actions taken by local authorities to resolve the crisis.”

Adhoc President Thun Saray said authorities must use non-violent means to end the dispute.

“Officials should intervene in forcing the company to respect the order issued by the Council of Ministers,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Lee Berthiaume)


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