Jarai ethnic minority villagers and representatives of Vietnam’s Hong Anh mining firm on Friday jointly inspected several drilling sites in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district that had led to several protests against the company’s activities.
More than 90 Jarai families in the district’s Lumchor commune have protested several times at Hong Anh test drilling sites since January, claiming the firm has encroached on their land and that mining staff have stolen fruit and vegetables from their highland forest farms.
The field visit was aimed at defusing tension between the villagers and the firm, district governor Dak Sar said on Friday, adding that the protesting families were assured that if mining is allowed by the government they will be adequately compensated for their lost land.
“After today’s [Friday’s] meeting the indigenous villagers are now well informed that the Vietnamese iron-ore company will pay compensation for farmland that is affected,” Mr Sar said, adding that the firm is currently test drilling at 30 sites in the district.
If the test results prove positive for iron ore, the company will seek a 15,400-hectare land concession on which to mine in a swath of territory stretching between the neighboring districts of Bokeo and O’Yadaw, Mr Sar said. Already, the firm has “found that there is enough iron-ore for future exploration,” he said.
Lumchor community representative Sev Yuon said on Friday that discussions with the Jarai people are taking place to see whether accepting cash for their affected land or finding alternative land elsewhere would be the better option.
Many locals, however, don’t want anything but for the firm to leave the area.
“So far, plenty of villagers whose farmland will be affected want the firm to leave because they need to keep their land for their children,” Mr Yuon said.
Lumchor commune chief Sev Thvan said the meeting had calmed tempers and the villagers are now waiting to see an official map defining the parameters of the proposed mining concession.
“The indigenous people in my commune promised to not organize violent protests as the concession map has not yet been released or approved,” he said.
Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said protests were normal as no one had informed the villagers of the plans. “Practically speaking, the firm and local authorities didn’t debate or inform the local villagers very well.”