Police Stop March Against Paper Plantation

krakor district, Pursat Province – Police and Military Police cut short a march on Tuesday by more than 100 farmers in protest of a company’s plans to clear their forest and rice fields to make way for an acacia tree plantation.

Bun Vanna, Krakor district police chief, said the villagers needed authorization from the Ministry of Interior, and showed a reporter a letter signed by Krakor district Governor Srey Kosal.

“I would like to certify that the district authority has no right to allow a demonstration. Demon­strations are under the authority of the Ministry of Interior according to the demonstration law,” the Nov 29 letter stated.

According to the 1991 law on demonstrations, however, protesters need only the permission from local authorities in the areas in which they wish to march.

Targeted by a grenade attack during a protest Nov 13, the villagers planned to march from their homes in Ansa Chambak commune to a work site inside the 315,000 hectare-plus economic concession belonging to land and timber giant Pheapimex Co Ltd.

Police stopped the march on National Route 5 several kilometers from the land concession.

In Kompong Chhnang prov­ince’s Baribor district authorities there also prevented villagers in their district from joining the protesters in nearby Pursat province, villagers said. The villagers, however, continued their protest by the roadside after they were stopped. Villagers said they were motivated to march after Pheap­imex company representatives and provincial officials showed them a concession map Friday.

According to the map, Pheap­imex controls not only the forest they rely upon to supplement their incomes, but also the land on which thousands of hectares of their rice fields are planted, as well as a local pagoda.

“We have to stand up to protect our rice fields and our forest,” said 33-year-old Chem Dara.

Meanwhile, concession operations were in full swing Tuesday.

More than 170 workers have been hired from neighboring provinces in the last four days, said military police officer Pin Ly, who was guarding the Pheap­imex site with some 15 other officers.

Several hectares of land have been bulldozed and workers are preparing a nursery to cultivate saplings for the paper plantation. The company has also dammed two streams which feed several villages in the commune.

Though the land was conceded to Pheapimex, the Chinese company Wuzhishan Group LS is manning the operations, according to Chi­nese site managers who declined Tuesday to comment further on the company’s plans.

Wuzhishan is clearing thousands of hectares of land with herbicide and burn off in Mon­dolkiri province in preparation for a massive pine tree plantation.


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