Preah Vihear provincial authorities say they have established a working group to study the validity of claims that 1,500 hectares of land leased by a Chinese sugar plantation should be set aside as a communal forest for 70 Kuy ethnic minority families.
Since 2013, Kuy villagers have staged demonstrations to prevent Rui Feng from clearing the disputed land, which the company maintains is part of 40,000 hectares of land concessions it was granted in 2010.
A smaller group of 70 families in Chheb district’s Sangke II commune started demonstrating in 2015 after the company moved to clear farmland and forest they had been using since at least 1984, according to villager Chum Sophoeut.
In a meeting with 100 villagers on Sunday, provincial governor Un Chanda said he agreed to establish a working group to assess their claims, even as he appeared to have already made up his mind.
“I wish to state that the company did not violate the people’s farmland in the past,” he said. “We established the working group to inspect and find out the truth about whether the company really violated the farmland of those families, and we will find a solution for the families.”
District governor Soksan Dara said the working group would begin its work this week.
“We have no plan to find solutions to cut land from the company for those families because they were farming on state land,” Mr. Dara said. “According to the law, those families are not able to protest to demand the land because the government granted this economic land concession to the Chinese company for investment.”
But Mr. Sophoeut, who attended the meeting, said Mr. Chanda had promised to turn the 1,500 hectares into a communal forest. Cambodia’s land law gives indigenous communities the right to apply for communal land titles.
Mr. Sophoeut said that families had lost between 1 and 3 hectares of farmland each, on which they largely grew cassava. The remainder of the land was used to harvest firewood, resin and similar products, he said.