krakor district, Pursat province – Opposition leader Sam Rainsy encouraged villagers on Thursday to continue their fight against timber giant Pheapimex Co Ltd as smoke billowed from burning fields where a forest once stood and a paper pulp plantation is being established.
Touring the contested area in Krakor district, which is part of a 315,000 hectare concession straddling Kompong Chhnang and Pursat provinces, Sam Rainsy said he had invited international donors to join him for the trip but only a few representatives from NGOs and the US-funded International Republic Institute took part.
“I want to make the international organizations and donor countries aware of what’s going on,” Sam Rainsy said, adding that he would write to Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun and other members of government regarding the concession.
Protests against the plantation have continued for months, and on Tuesday villagers warned that violence could erupt if their concerns were not addressed.
The threat followed the company’s culling of some 300 trees that had been blessed by Buddhist monks and decked in saffron-colored robes in a ceremony on Jan 5.
Many of the workers hired by Pheapimex to clear forest for the concession complained on Thursday of high food prices in the area, malaria, long work hours and having to borrow money at high interest rates.
“I will leave if I pay my debt at the end of the month,” said one worker.
Sam Rainsy said he understood the workers were trying to earn some money and that before coming, many had been told they were to plant trees, not cut them.
“I understand the difficult choice these people have made,” he said. “They really need some income.”