Representatives of nearly 200 ethnic Kreung families living in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Chum district on Tuesday filed a complaint with local rights group Adhoc, accusing a Vietnamese rubber company of clearing their ancestral land, local officials and a rights worker said.
Chhay Thy, provincial investigator for Adhoc, said that since late last year, employees of the CRD rubber company have bulldozed the boundaries of a 700-hectare area the firm intends to turn into a rubber plantation. The destruction has spread to the property of 31 ethnic minority families living in La’ak commune’s Kaim village.
“We received a complaint from four representatives [of the indigenous families] this morning, and we have passed the complaint along to the provincial forestry and land management officials,” Mr. Thy said, adding that a total of 68 families living in the area thumbprinted the complaint.
Mr. Thy said the 700-hectare area is located outside CRD’s government-awarded economic land concession (ELC). If the company continues to bulldoze the area, all 186 families in Kaim village will lose the land they have depended on for generations, he added.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, in 2011 CRD was granted a 7,591-hectare concession that cuts through the province’s O’Chum, Bakeo and Andong Meas districts.
Khun Sanoy, chief of Kaim village, said that while villagers claim the land the company has begun clearing is located outside the boundaries of its concession, government officials have told him a different story.
“Before, the villagers were living on community land. But now, the top officials have confirmed that this is the company’s land,” Mr. Sanoy said, adding that the villagers had previously appealed to district officials for help, but their pleas were ignored.
O’Chum district governor Pak Ton said he had not ignored the villagers’ requests for help, and had recommended that they apply for private land titles rather than try to get a communal land title for their ancestral land.
“We just asked the villagers to register for private land titles,” Mr. Ton said.
Na Ith, 30, a Kreung villager, said that like many of his neighbors, he relies on the land both for farming and collecting vines in the forest, which he weaves into traditional baskets and sells at the local market.
“We are facing difficulties because the company…has caused villagers to lose revenue from selling the woven baskets and lose farmland for planting various crops,” Mr. Ith said.
Sek Sophorn, national coordinator for the International Labor Organization, which established the internationally binding Indigenous and Tribal People’s Convention in 1989, on Tuesday said that agrobusiness firms rarely consider the wellbeing of indigenous communities living on or near their agroindustry farms.
“If the company [land] overlaps with the community…in principle, they should respect the community’s right to the land,” Mr. Sophorn said. “But because the ELCs are authorized without participation from the people in the area, the company feels their [claims to the land] are legal and the people are illegal.”
On Monday, 12 ethnic Tampuon families in Lumphat district filed a complaint with district land management officials after another Vietnamese rubber plantation firm cleared more than 10 hectares of their farmland, and for which the indigenous villagers had private land titles.