South Korean Embassy Defends Rubber Firm, But Villagers Want Its Help

Villagers representing families in Kratie province petitioned the South Korean Embassy for help Tuesday in their dispute with a South Korean agribusiness firm, after hearing that the embassy had lodged a complaint against them.

About 200 villagers from Kratie province’s Snuol district are staying at the city’s Samakki Raingsey pagoda and planning to march on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house if their demand that the Horizon Agricultural Department return the 1,500 disputed hectares is not met by Friday.

“There have been strong effects on the villagers, who have been living on the land for a long time…including clearing of our land and our rubber plantation…our cashew, cassava, green beans and corn crops,” the petition reads. “The company has also used force with weapons, arrested people and threatened to shoot people who are living on the land.”

The petition asks the South Korean ambassador to help solve the dispute in their favor.

The villagers said they were informed of the South Korean Embassy’s complaint against them by Snuol district governor Kong Kimny early this month.

“The Snuol district governor told villagers they planned to solve the problem but they could not any more because this was an issue between Cambodia and Korea,” village representative Din Saroeun said.

Mr. Kimny confirmed that he had informed the villagers of a complaint from the embassy.

“The Korean Embassy in Phnom Penh filed a complaint with authorities to protect the company’s land and accused villagers of land grabbing,” Mr. Kimny said Tuesday.

He said his staff had been planning to issue land titles to the villagers until the embassy filed its complaint.

South Korean Embassy officials confirmed that the embassy had filed a complaint with the Ministry of Land Management on the company’s behalf in March.

“We lodged an official complaint with the Ministry of Land Management on March 3 and there was a formal meeting between ambassador [Kim Han-soo] and [Minister] Im Chhun Lim,” said Park Min-seo, second secretary at the embassy.

The ambassador, Mr. Kim, said most of the villagers involved in the dispute had only started moving onto Horizon’s land after the company began developing its concession.

“The company has big trouble because it invested money into the land to develop it and cultivate rubber,” he said. “They got permission from [the] Ministry of Agriculture to cultivate the land. When the company began cultivating it, very few people were there. Many declared it was their land afterward.”

The ambassador said he was not aware of a petition from the villagers Tuesday.

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