Villagers End 3-Day K Thom Protest, Claiming Intimidation

Kuy ethnic minority villagers in Kompong Thom province’s Sandan district have been forced to give up their days-long protest against a Vietnamese rubber company after they felt intimidated by the presence of security forces, which prevented them from reaching the company office, a villager said yesterday.

Hundreds of villagers oppose the company’s land concession, fearing it will clear thousands of hectares of a unique evergreen forest on which they rely for their livelihoods.

Chheang Vuthy, a representative of the villagers, said the group had returned home after trying in vain for three days to reach the office of Viet-namese rubber company CRCK.

“We had to move back…there are a lot of military police deployed. The villagers felt scared,” he said.

Mr Vuthy said the local Kuy population was concerned the clearing of a 6,000-hectare land concession in Prey Long forest, where they collect nontimber products for a living.

Prey Long forest covers 135,000 hectares in parts of Kompong Thom, Stung Treng, Preah Vihear and Kratie provinces. It is the largest remaining lowland evergreen forest in mainland Southeast Asia but it is not officially protected.

Villagers have said hundreds of trees have already been cleared in the concession area, which has been closed off by security forces.

Ouch Sam On, Kompong Thom deputy governor, said villagers could not oppose the 6,000-hectare concession because the government had already approved it in accordance with the law.

He denied allegations that armed security forces had intimidated villagers: “This is not true…. We don’t allow the use of guns” by officers.

On a video recording from Thurs-day, a Forestry Administration official can be seen telling villagers they had no grounds to complain, as the forest has no protected status.

“This Prey Long forest is not recognized by the state,” he said, ad-ding that villagers’ protests amounted to “ignorant activity.”

Tim Sipha, Forestry Admini­s­tra­tion law enforcement director, said yesterday he could not comment.

  (Additional reporting by Paul Vrieze)






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