More than 100 people on Thursday protested and stopped a bulldozer belonging to businessman Try Pheap from clearing their land next to a rubber plantation he owns in Preah Vihear’s Rovieng district, villagers and local officials said.
Oeun Sitha said he was among more than 100 protesters representing about 100 families living on the land—a 1 km by about 150 meter strip opposite Try Pheap’s plantation—who stopped a bulldozer belonging to Mr. Pheap after it started clearing their farms.
“Authorities sent more than 20 police and military police to the area to provide security for the bulldozer and the driver to clear the land,” he said. “But we stopped the activity after it cleared more than 50 meters.”
Mr. Sitha said the families have been moving into the area since 2010 with approval from commune officials and that they were being offered nearby land in compensation for being resettled by the state.
“But we do not agree with the offer because it is a forested area and we cannot make money there,” Mr. Sitha said.
Rovieng district governor Ea Saro sent the families a letter dated October 10 ordering them to leave by today. Romany commune officials, who allegedly gave the families permission to move to the disputed land, could not be reached.
Commune police chief Chhit Oeung, however, confirmed that the bulldozer and driver both came from the nearby Try Pheap plantation and that the clearing had been suspended to give the families and authorities time to settle the dispute.
“We stopped the clearing to wait for a solution from the provincial level,” Mr. Oeung said.
Mr. Saro, the district governor who signed off on the eviction notice, said the disputed area was state public land and that authorities needed the plantation’s help to turn it into a social land concession for ethnic minority Kuy families.
“The provincial governor just needs help from Try Pheap to clear the land because we have a plan to provide a social land concession for newcomers because they don’t have land to stay,” he said.
But both Mr. Sitha and Lor Chan, a provincial coordinator for human rights group Adhoc, who was at Thursday’s protest, suspected the land was being cleared to expand Mr. Pheap’s plantation, given the proximity and the use of his company’s equipment and driver.
Sei La, a manager at the plantation, denied their claim and insisted the company was helping the province, at no cost, to make way for a social land concession.