Land and timber giant Pheapimex Co Ltd has resumed clearing forest in Pursat province’s Krakor district after pausing in the wake of a local protest that was the target of a grenade attack, villagers reported Wednesday.
The company stopped work Saturday, after a grenade injured six villagers sleeping by the road in Ansa Chambak commune, as hundreds of farmers protested the company’s forest clearing for a planned eucalyptus plantation on more than 315,000 hectares in Pursat and Kompong Chhnang provinces.
“The company started clearing about 2 hectares of forest today,” villager Kuch Veng said. “There are about 10 police officials standing by there to protect the company in clearing the forest.”
District and provincial officials said they did not to know whether work had resumed at the Ansa Chambak commune site, which is being managed by Chinese workers.
“I am not sure, but I heard that the Chinese are there but there is no activity,” said district police Chief Born Vanna.
He said that two police officers and some military police were at the site to protect equipment and workers.
Kuch Veng said Pursat Governor Ung Samy visited the cleared area too, but the governor denied it, saying he had only attended a meeting at Wat Damrey in Baribor district, Kompong Chhnang province.
“I did not see any activity of the company to clear the forest,” Ung Samy said, adding that he is committed to peacefully resolving the conflict.
Villagers also reported that men claiming to be bodyguards of Prime Minister Hun Sen arrived at the commune Wednesday and said they were looking for two village representatives, including a man named Um Huot.
Um Huot, 60, was in Phnom Penh Wednesday to petition NGOs, diplomats and the royal family to help stop the forest clearing and protect the villagers. On Tuesday, Um Huot had said that he worried police would target him as one of the most outspoken of local activists.
Police have said they may soon arrest suspects in the grenade attack, which they insinuated was perpetrated by villagers themselves to make trouble for the company.
Born Vanna said Wednesday no arrests were planned as yet. He said he did not know whether Hun Sen bodyguards were in the area or looking for villagers.
Huy Piseth, chief of the bodyguard unit, declined to comment, saying he was too busy to speak to one reporter.
Villagers, meanwhile, said they will continue to protest the forest clearing. “We are going to demonstrate again,” Kuch Veng said.