The end of the controversial rubber plantation solidarity groups looks to be drawing near, with the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court looking to charge a number of solidarity group leaders over an Oct 15 confrontation with police and the provincial authorities giving a deadline for their disbanding.
Deputy Provincial Governor Chey Sayoeun said provincial authorities Thursday informed all 34 solidarity groups that they should attend a meeting Nov 19. At that meeting, the solidarity groups will be informed of the Agriculture Ministry’s 2007 decision to disband the groups, and that they must immediately vacate the province’s state-owned rubber plantations.
Formed in the communist 1980s, the solidarity groups were originally worker collectives that have since been taken over by private operators that the government and rights groups claim have exploited workers. By law, the groups had been forced to sell any rubber resin they collected to the Tai Seng Company.
On Oct 15, the groups attempted to transport a truck full of resin to sell on the open market in violation of the order to sell to Tai Seng. In the ensuing confrontation with police, the truck was torched by the solidarity group operators and some individuals received minor injuries.
On Thursday, provincial court Judge Thao Sarorn confirmed that Provincial Prosecutor Mey Sokhan had requested that the matter be investigated, but he was uncertain what charges may be laid against the operators. Mey Sokhan declined to comment on his request, saying it was a “confidential court matter.”
Solidarity groups representative Chhe Chan said that he had heard from sources in the court that the prosecutor was looking to charge him and five other solidarity group leaders with destruction of state property, disturbing the peace and attempted murder over the Oct 15 scuffle.
Chhe Chan said he will fight against these charges, which he characterized as an attempt by Tai Seng to do away with the leaders of the solidarity groups.