Fifty-three families in Preah Vihear province’s Kulen district on Sunday protested outside the headquarters of a Malaysian company that is threatening to clear villagers’ farmland to make way for a rubber plantation, rights groups and officials said Monday.
The families, who live in Srayong commune’s Srayong Khang Choeung village, gathered at the headquarters of FP Malaysia, claiming company representatives told them last week to stop cultivating their farmland because the land belonged to the company.
“Villagers protested because they are worried about losing their rice fields and farmland because the company threatened and banned villagers from cultivating rice and various crops,” said Lor Chan, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc.
District governor Chum Puy said the government last year granted an 8,200-hectare economic land concession to FP Malaysia for agro-industrial investment, but added that only 12 families had a valid complaint against the company, because the other 41 are occupying the land illegally.
“We already solved the land dispute for 12 families, but we are not responsible for the 41 families because they just came to occupy the land recently,” he said. “The company cleared more than 200 hectares of land…[and then] those people came to settle their cottages on the cleared land. We have no solution for them because they are settling illegally.”
Commune chief Pen Lam, however, said most people occupying the land had been there as early as 2002.
“I think that most people have been living there legally, but a few families just came to stay in 2012 and also this year,” he said.
Koy Pov, 26, a member of one of the 53 families who protested Sunday, said Monday that he has owned a 100-meter-by-500-meter plot of land in the concession area since 2002.
“We will not allow the company to clear the farmland, otherwise we will hold a demonstration to protest against the clearing,” he said.
On September 30, Mr. Pov, as well as a handful of other affected villagers, traveled to Phnom Penh and filed a complaint with Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin, requesting the leaders’ help in the dispute. On October 24, Mr. Samrin wrote to provincial and district officials, ordering them to find a solution to the dispute.