Ratanakkiri Villagers Protest Over ‘Safe Hill’ Land

About 300 ethnic Lao villagers protested in Ratanakkiri province on Thursday against a Vietnamese company that is clearing land that locals use as a “safe hill” during times of major flooding, villagers and a rights group said.

The Hoang Anh Lumphat company has an economic land concession of more than 9,000 hectares in Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat district, according to rights group Licadho. After protests by villagers last year, the company agreed to return about 1,400 hectares to them. However, the villagers are now asking Hoang Anh Lumphat to spare 500 additional hectares so that they can keep their hill, where they flee for safety when the nearby Srepok River floods during the rainy season.

“The villagers gathered on the cleared land this morning and posted wooden sticks to demarcate the boundaries of the land, which stretches along the Srepok River,” said villager Dam Lean, 57.

“We have protested many times to take the land back because villagers always use this hill to escape from the floods during every rainy season, but the company has not agreed with the villagers’ demands.”

District governor Kong Srun said that authorities had already returned a total of 1,457 hectares of Hoang Anh Lumphat’s concession to the villagers, who live in Thmey and Sre Chhouk villages in Chey Uddom commune, and that further negotiations were not possible.

“We will invite all villagers to a meeting to tell them that we are not able to find a solution for these people, because the government already granted the land to the company,” he said.

Chhay Thy, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the company was using the land for a rubber plantation. He said villagers filed a complaint with his group in 2013 seeking help in preserving the hill, but that so far, the company had refused to entertain their request.

Hoang Anh Lumphat could not be reached for comment. The company’s registered business address is at the same location as the head office of Vietnamese conglomerate Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) in Vietnam, but HAGL has denied that Hoang Anh Lumphat is its subsidiary.

pheap@cambodiadaily.com

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