At least 100 protesters in Pursat province gathered in front of the Krakor district governor’s office yesterday, demanding that powerful conglomerate Pheapimex stop clearing forested land they claim as their own.
Pheapimex, which previously maintained a 316,000-hectare concession stretching into the province, said it had stopped work there in 2005 after its plans to clear-cut the area sparked local protests.
Villagers and a provincial official said yesterday the firm had resumed forest clearances though it was unknown whether this was done as part of the original concession.
Provincial governor Khoy Sokha said he had few details but noted that the firm had since planted 10,000 acacia trees for its paper processing operation.
According to Mr Sokha, district governor Kim Saren briefly met with a handful of the 100 or so protesters and agreed to have his staff visit the site today to investigate their claims.
“We will find a solution between them and the company officials,” Mr Sokha said. “The [authorities] will go and find out more at the site.”
Neither Mr Saren nor any of the villagers who met with him could be reached for comment.
Long Samean, one of the protesters, placed the size of the gathered crowd at about 400, and said the district governor only met with them after they had blocked traffic along National Road 5 for 15 minutes.
“The district governor and company representative promised to find a solution for us,” said Kuch Veng, another of yesterday’s protesters. “We will wait and see.”
Both Mr Samean and Mr Veng accused Pheapimex of clearing ancestral forests they relied on for food and other essentials, but could not say precisely how much of their land the firm had allegedly cleared.
Nget Theavy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, could not confirm the protesters’ claims against the firm but faulted the government for granting it a concession without the requisite social and environmental impact assessments.
“When the government grants land to the company, the company gets permission to do anything without caring about the impacts.”
A 2004 UN report identified CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin as the director of Pheapimex, which is owned by his wife Chheung Sopheap, and the Wuzhishan LS Group, both of which have come under fire for their tree-planting concessions. Mr Meng Khin is also the director of Shukaku Inc, whose ongoing filling of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake is causing the eviction of thousands of lakeside residents.
Pheapimex could not be reached for comment. A publicly listed phone number for the firm did not work. At the Agriculture Ministry, Secretary of State Chan Tong Yves referred questions to Undersecretary of State Ith Nody, who could not be reached.