Villagers in Ratanakkiri Prevent Company From Clearing Land

About 100 villagers prevented a company from clearing part of its land concession in Ratanakkiri province’s Lumphat district on Saturday in the latest confrontation in a long-running dispute in the Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary, according to a villager and a local official.

The Vietnamese-owned Daun Penh Agrico firm, which was awarded an 8,825-hectare economic land concession inside the sanctuary in 2011, was prevented from clearing a 50-hectare swath that local indigenous communities claim as part of their communal forest.

Dy Samey, who claims to represent some 225 ethnic Lao, Bunong and Tampuon families attempting to protect their ancestral land from development by Daun Penh Agrico, said a group of about 30 villagers was unable to stop the company’s machinery from clearing land on Friday.

But a second effort by about 100 villagers on Saturday successfully stopped seven excavators and bulldozers from clearing the land, according to Mr. Samey.

“The company representatives claim they got a concession from the state, but that land belongs to the minorities,” he said.

“We always bring our cattle to stay there as a safe area when it is flooding season, so we don’t want any companies clearing our land.” he added. “We will not stop protesting if the company comes back to clear the land again.”

Acting district governor Nou The said authorities awarded the indigenous groups a 723-hectare social land concession in the sanctuary in 2013, but the villagers were still pushing for more.

“They are still demanding 500 additional hectares…and their safe area,” he said. “We are still negotiating with both sides to find a solution for them.”

A representative of Daun Penh Agrico declined to comment. The firm’s concession has proven highly controversial, particularly after local officials admitted to granting a second “unofficial” concession in the sanctuary in 2013, after Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a ban on economic land concessions.

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