Rubber Farmers Accuse Big Firm of Encroaching on Their Land

Roughly 100 rubber farmers in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Chum district blocked National Road 78A on Wednesday, demanding that authorities take action against a pair of laborers they accuse of stealing resin from their land.

The laborers—Math Las, 40, and his wife, Nos Yas, 38—who are reportedly employed by Chinese-owned Swiss Rubber Limited, were apprehended by the farmers Wednesday for allegedly taking resin from trees outside the Chinese company’s concession in Ekpheap commune.

The protesters then used three pickup trucks and a human-chain to block the road after police refused to acknowledge their complaint, according to protester Lon Putheara.

“We blocked the national road following [the] district police’s refusal to come and make a report over the arrest of two laborers who collected resin within our territory,” said Mr. Putheara.

Commune police chief Set Ngeang said that the farmers first approached commune police, requesting that a record be made of the incident.

“But it is beyond my power as I am not sure whether or not the smallholders have had court battles with the Chinese rubber company about the ownership of rubber plantations here,” Mr. Ngeang said.

“My superior at district police didn’t allow me to make a record about this arrest so I just followed the order,” he said, adding that the protesters then demanded that district police chief Douk Reuy intervene.

The farmers agreed to unblock the road after two hours when district and provincial police detained the alleged thieves, according to Mr. Reuy.

“The two detained laborers are now [being sent] to provincial police headquarters,” he said.

The incident is the second time in which Swiss Rubber has allegedly violated smallholders’ rubber plantations, said Khem Sok, a representative of the rubber farmers.

On Friday, in Ekpheap commune, the farmers confiscated an excavator belonging to Swiss Rubber and turned it in to provincial police, Mr. Sok said.

Thirty rubber-farming families with claims to a total of 168 hec­tares of land in the area have battled the Tai Seng rubber company for ownership of the land since 2005. On March 29, the Appeal Court ruled in favor of the villagers.

Swiss Rubber claims to have a sub-contract with Tai Seng to collect resin on the land, said Mr. Sok

“We don’t know why…Swiss Rubber Limited sends workers to collect resin inside our smallholding rubber areas but such activities are called stealing,” he said.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Roeun Borin, a representative for Swiss Rubber, confirmed that the two detained workers were employees, and said that his company was granted more than 3,500 hectares of state rubber plantation by the Ministry of Agriculture in late 2010.

“Our workers have collected resin in that area for a few years already and we have no idea why these smallholders arrested them,” he said, adding that his company’s concessions did not involve those of Tai Seng.

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