The erstwhile owners of two formerly collectivized rubber plantations were arrested and detained in jail on Thursday in Ratanakkiri province after leading two violent demonstrations in the province aimed at having the plantations returned to them, police and court officials said.
On Wednesday, Chhe Chan and Bun Tha led a group of 50 people to their former plantation near Banlung town, where they confronted workers and dumped 300 liters of rubber resin on the ground, said provincial court deputy prosecutor Ros Saram.
On Thursday police apprehended the men as they led around 100 protesters armed with hoes and knives who intended to disrupt work at the plantation, Mr Saram said, adding the two were arrested on outstanding warrants from violence in 2008 related to the loss of their plantations.
“They both committed property destruction and led anarchic protests to stop rubber workers from harvesting resin,” acting provincial police chief Chao Neang said.
In February 2009, the government finally retired the province’s so-called “solidarity group” rubber plantations, which operated as worker collectives during the communist 1980s but had been bought and sold into private hands several times during the 1990s.
Amid claims of poor treatment of workers on the “solidarity groups,” the government confiscated the properties, totaling some 2,000 hectares, and handed them over to the province’s largest rubber producer, Ly Hong Hsin, which operates the province’s plantations on a government concession basis.
Shortly before his arrest on Thursday, Mr Chan said in a telephone interview from Ratanakkiri that the protests were aimed at forcing new talks on reinstating the 34 defunct “solidarity” plantations. Two hundred families that had relied on the plantations for their incomes were now living in poverty, he said.
“The protest is just to seek temporary control of our solidarity groups in order to generate income for our families who are starving,” Mr Chan said, accusing officials of retiring the solidarity groups at all levels to “steal” the plantations from their rightful owners.
The Ly Hong Hsin firm was given control of Mr Chan and Mr Tha’s plantations, which led to the protests at the firm’s plantations this week.
he believed the retiring of the was a coordinated plan by