More than 300 villagers representing seven villages in Pursat province’s Krakor district filed an official complaint with commune officials last week against the Ratanak Visal company, accusing the firm of clearing forest and filling a stream with soil, depriving them of water.
The stream has been gone since May, and both the company and provincial authorities have ignored the villagers’ complaints, said Bin Dy, 41, of Anlong Tnot commune’s Tuol Matak village.
“The company continues clearing natural forest and refusing to clear our stream,” Bin Dy said. “They also construct water gates to store water for their demands and leave villagers to face a lack of water for our use and our farms,” he added.
Community forestry activist Kuch Veng said the company initially grew cashews, then vegetables and finally rice on the cleared land.
He added that the water now being used by the company was needed by villagers, or else their paddies would not produce rice.
Sok Tha, Anlong Tnot second deputy commune chief, said that the company had invested a lot in the irrigation of its land and had legal rights to clear forest, because it had only cleared 800 hectares of a 3,000 hectare concession.
Sok Tha added that villagers had rejected a compromise that involved using water from another stream and were only bringing the complaint because the provincial court and authorities had ignored their earlier accusations against the company.
Krakor district police Chief Bin Vanna said that several attempts by villagers, authorities and the company to resolve the dispute had failed.
He added that Ratanak Visal constructed the irrigation system after they switched crops when their cashew plantation proved unprofitable.
Ratanak Visal representatives could not be reached for comment Monday.
“We will hold a protest, because otherwise the company will use soil to fill other streams,” Bun Soeurn Anlong Tnot, a commune villager said. “Then villagers will suffer badly, because streams are important water sources for villagers to use during the dry season.”