Pulp Firm May Have Encroached on Other Land

The Chinese company em­broiled in a land dispute with Phnong villagers in Mondolkiri province may also have en­croach­ed upon land originally set aside for a Japanese company’s pro­posed rubber plantation, officials said.

Marubeni Development Corp first expressed an interest in developing a plantation in 2003 and conducted several studies, project Manager Masahilo Matsushita said Tues­day.

Two hectares of rubber trees were later planted in O’Reang district in 2004, partly to determine whether the project had merit.

“That was a trial planting,” Matsushita said, who added that au­thorities and villagers were aware of the Japanese plantation.

After consulting with villagers and officials at all levels of government, the Agriculture Ministry agreed to set aside 10,000 hectares for Marubeni until the project was ap­proved, Matsushita said.

But now it appears Chinese company Wuzhishan is planting pine trees on the reserved land.

“We heard the Chinese company is encroaching on our area,” Mat­sushita said, though he hadn’t been out to the site to verify the claim.

Over the weekend, Japanese am­bassador Fumiaki Takahashi at­tended the Forestry Day celebrations in Mondolkiri and the am­bassador met with Phnong villa­gers several times to discuss the issue.

While Takahashi said there was nothing unusual about his visit, the villagers he met with said the Mar­ubeni concession was the main is­sue he discussed with them.

“He asked us if we minded if a Ja­panese company came to the area,” said Kroang Chhe, a villager from Sen Monorom commune. “They had asked for the land first but then the Chinese company just came and planted the trees.”

Villager Hor Philil, who escorted the ambassador to one of the Wu­zhi­shan work sites Sunday, said there was no way another company could come into the area.

“There is no land left,” he said.

Forestry Administration Chief Ty Sokhun said Tuesday that the dispute between the companies was a miscommunication and would be dealt with by the same committee examining the dispute be­­­tween Wuzhishan and Phnong vil­lagers.

He said no clear borders had ever been demarcated for either concession by officials at the na­tion­al level.

He added that it ap­pears provincial, district and commune officials provided both companies with promises they couldn’t keep.

But Ty Sokhun said land would be made available once the Japanese company is ready to move ahead.

Provincial Governor Thou Son said Tuesday that the committee charged with resolving the dispute had started visiting Phnong villages on Monday to urge villagers to de­clare their land “so it is easy to realize where the free land is.”

He reported that several Wuzhishan trucks were confiscated by au­thorities Monday after the company broke a Council of Ministers or­der and continued planting over the weekend.

Sam Sarin, the local representative for human rights group Adhoc, said six trucks, some knives and hoes were confiscated.

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