The sight yesterday of a hundred workers unloading axes, machetes and tents has renewed protests in Pursat province, where villagers say the conglomerate Pheapimex is clearing community forest to make acacia and cassava plantations.
Pheapimex has since 1997 maintained a sprawling 316,000-hectare economic land concession covering parts of Pursat and Kompong Chhnang provinces that is more than 31 times greater than a legal size limit established in 2005.
Company representatives say their current activities will not affect villagers’ farmland. However, 300 villagers last week set up a roadblock in Krakor district’s Chhoeu Tom commune to stop a truck carrying company workers.
Villagers said yesterday that residents of six villages planned to join a protest today against the forest clearances, peacefully confronting workers at the site of the clearances.
Pil Pech, 43, a representative of residents in Kandal village, said yesterday workers were camped in the forest a few hundred meters from his home and using red paint to mark the boundaries of areas to be cleared.
“The protest will get bigger and bigger whenever the forest clearing starts,” Mr Pech said yesterday.
Meng Bunroeun, 36, a Kbal Teahean villager representative, said 25 workers had also set up camp close to his house.
“At the beginning, we plan to ask for information from company representatives about what they are going to do. If they are clearing forest, we will ask them to stop,” he said.
“We have no intention to pressure the company to cancel its concession contract with the government, but we want to keep some land for the next generation.”
District governor Tim Sarin declined to comment. But Ty Kim Toc, a Pheapimex representative, said the workers that his company had imported into the area would not encroach on villagers’ land.
“Our company does not touch the villagers’ land. We are working on what the government gave us,” he said, adding that the company had already cleared 8,000 hectares of its larger concession. “It is entirely forest, not farmland.”