Svay Rieng Farmers Protest Loss Of Land to Rubber Plantation

Workers, guarded by armed security force members, began clearing cassava and cashew fields for a state-run rubber plantation in Svay Rieng province this week as villagers there continued their at­tempts to halt the project, villagers said yesterday.

The government granted 3,960 hectares for a rubber plantation in Romeas Hek district’s Tros commune along the Vietnam border in 2007, though villager representative Year Yeng said yesterday more than 1,000 families have lived and farmed on the land since the 1990s.

“We are collecting thumbprints for local villagers to file complaints with several human rights organizations to get the land for farming,” he said, adding that villagers traveled to Phnom Penh to appeal for help from Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2008.

“Local authorities used armed forces such as police and military police to use a few bulldozers to clear our cassava and cashew plantations from Monday up to today,” Mr Yeng said.

CPP commune councilor Hem Soun said the plantation affects only a few dozen villagers that have farm­ed there for a long time and, he added, they will be given 700 hec­­tares of land for resettlement.

The hundred people who pro­tested the deal in Phnom Penh “are middlemen who bought the land illegally,” Mr Soun claimed, adding that most of the villagers began clearing land there illegally in 2005.

Villager Heng Buntha said that as of Wednesday about 300 hec­tares had been cleared and villagers will continue their protests.

District Governor Mao Virak defended the project, saying that it will benefit the villagers.

“To alleviate poverty and im­prove employment for local villagers, that is why the government develops remote areas, especially for villagers living along the border,” he said.

Nget Channara, provincial coordinator for local rights group Ad­hoc, said yesterday that Adhoc had just received villagers’ verbal complaints about the land clearance.



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