A rubber company that has been repeatedly accused of encroaching on communal land belonging to an ethnic minority in Ratanakkiri province has cleared 150 hectares of forest outside of its economic land concession (ELC) in the past month, according to the senior investigator for local rights group Adhoc.
A communal forestry committee formed by ethnic Jarai minority residents of Lom village in O’Yadaw district’s Paknhai commune has monitored the operations of Vietnamese-owned Company 72 over the past month and reported to Adhoc that, despite promises not to do so, the company has continued to clear land outside of its 6,000-hectare ELC.
During a visit to the area with 10 residents of Lom village on Thursday, Adhoc’s senior investigator Pen Bonnar said that the group encountered three bulldozers clearing land outside of the Company 72 concession.
“We found that the company is really clearing the communal land and we stopped three bulldozers that were outside of the land concession,” he said. “Villagers are worried because they think that the company will continue to clear the land if they return to their homes.”
“In the past month, the firm has cleared 150 hectares of the communal land,” he added.
Mr. Bonnar said that most of the wood that has been cleared by the company in the past month is of low value, and would probably be burned to allow the company to expand its rubber plantation.
Cambodia’s 2001 Land Law says indigenous communities should receive automatic protection of their forests, but Lom villagers have complained over the past five months that what’s left of their land is being systematically cleared by Company 72 and Day Dong Yoeun, another Vietnamese rubber company.
Lom villagers allege that the companies are smuggling luxury timber felled in their concessions to be sold in Vietnam. The companies have denied the allegations. Company 72 also denied that it had employed seven men who were arrested for logging on its ELC in December.
O’Yadaw district governor Dork Sar said Thursday that he had sent the complaints of Lom villagers to provincial authorities, but added that he thought their grievances were futile as the land in question has been leased to Company 72 as an ELC.
“I have told those villagers to stop protesting against the company. The protests are useless because this is the government’s decision,” he said.