The 34 solidarity groups that work on 1,300 hectares of Ratanakkiri province rubber plantations have announced that they are planning to bypass the Tai Seng Rubber Company, to which they are bound by law to sell the resin they harvest.
Tai Seng offers 4,800 riel per kg, which is half the market price, according to solidarity group representative Chhe Chan, and the groups are fed up.
On Wednesday, they will transport their resin to Kompong Cham province, where they will be able to sell it for 9,500 riel per kg, he said.
“This is a new revolution. We cannot tolerate the company’s pressures and exploitations,” said Chhe Chan. “We will no longer sell rubber to the company.”
A battle for control of Ratanakkiri’s rubber plantations has been going on between the groups and Tai Seng, which was given control of the province’s 2,300 hectares of rubber plantations by the government in 1997. The solidarity groups, which are remnants of the workers’ collectives set up in the communist 1980s, were given the rights to work on 1,300 hectares, provided they sell resin to Tai Seng exclusively.
In March 2007, the Ministry of Agriculture issued an order disbanding the solidarity groups, but it has yet to take effect.
Tai Seng Director-General Ly Hong Sin said Sunday that he would have police arrest the groups if they act against their existing agreement.
“We will arrest them and confiscate the rubber. They cannot sell to anyone else besides the company,” he said, adding that Tai Seng is unable to offer market prices for the rubber because they have to pay taxes on the 2,300 hectares of land every year.
“They can sell rubber to anywhere in the world if they want to plant rubber trees themselves,” he said.
Ratanakkiri Provincial Deputy Governor Bou Lam said he received a notice from the solidarity groups notifying him of their plans, and that he supports them.
“Cambodia is a free market…. Cambodia is a democratic country,” he said, adding that more people are bound to benefit if the solidarity groups try their luck on the free market.
“Four people dying is better than 10 people dying,” he said.
Bou Lam said his police would not intervene because the deal was initially dictated by the Agriculture Ministry and is therefore outside his jurisdiction.
“I won’t prevent them from selling,” he said.
Agriculture Ministry Rubber Department Director Ly Phalla said he was abroad Sunday and could not comment.