Pheapimex Suspends Work at Huge Concession

Land and timber giant Pheap­imex Co has suspended work at its massive concession in Pursat and Kom­pong Chhnang provinces, com­munity leaders and police said Thursday.

The Pheapimex concession has been bitterly contested by donor or­ganizations, NGOs, and local villagers since 2001, when the company first attempted to clear-cut land.

Protests erupted again in 2004 when the company tried for a second time to log the 315,000-hectare con­­cession area. Officials and locals said Thursday that work has wound down since April.

“Workers were ordered to stop working between January and early April, and then all company material, including bulldozers, was taken away,” said Keo Sito, 50, a com­munity leader in Pursat pro­vince’s Krakor district.

“There is no more work there,” she said, adding a company official had told her the firm had stopped work to study how its activities were affecting village farms and near­by pagoda land.

Krakor district police and for­estry administration officials confirmed the suspension and said they had sent police officials to protect the company’s property until workers return. They, too, said the company had re­moved its equipment from the site.

“Thousands of workers and oth­er company employees are gone,” Bin Vanna, Krakor district po­­lice chief, said on Thursday.

“I do not know clearly the reason,” he said, ad­ding that he had deployed 10 po­lice and military police officers to pro­tect a pine nursery left behind by the company.

But Kuch Veng, a community lead­er in Krakor district’s Angsar Chambak commune, said police were growing rice on the land they were ordered to protect.

He also claimed forestry administration officials had told him the con­­cession would be revoked and the land returned to forestry officials.

Um Sopha, director of Krakor dist­rict’s forestry administration, said that he did not know whether Pheapi­mex workers would return but that he had not heard anything about a cancellation.

“Our officials will work there un­til we get new orders to leave,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Lee Berth­iaume)


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