Villagers in R’kiri Dispute Block Road

Villagers in Ratanakkiri province blocked National Road 78A on Thursday for more than three hours as authorities tried to push through to evict them in favor of a rubber company, police and villagers said.

About 400 villagers blocked the section of the road that links O’Chum district to Banlung City, according to provincial police chief Ray Rai, who called the roadblock illegal.

“It caused a traffic jam for many hours,” he said. “Our police tried to cooperate with the villagers and make them open the road while taking out the wood that they had placed on the road.”

On Wednesday, the same villagers had clashed with authorities, who said they were living illegally on land that had been granted as an economic land concession to Swift Rubber Ltd. Around 200 families had their homes bulldozed on Wednesday, while about 100 families managed to save their homes.

“On Wednesday the police had about 100 forces, but today more than 300 forces came,” said Sao Thean, a representative of the villagers. “They wanted to evict us and clear our houses. We will not allow them to do that.”

Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the villagers removed their roadblock Thursday once authorities agreed not to destroy any homes.

“The provincial authorities agreed to not move the 102 families that have been living here a long time,” said Mr. Thy.

Ngen Borin, a representative of Swift Rubber, said the land unequivocally belongs to the company and must be cleared.

“Those people want to illegally live on that land which belongs to the company,” said Mr. Borin.

He said some of the families involved in the dispute moved to the land recently and should not receive compensation, while others had lived there for many years. He said the company would talk to authorities about possible solutions for this tenured group.

One option is to create a social land concession for these families, said Mr. Rai, the police chief.

“We will not clear away the old families, we will only clear away the slums, but the old families are afraid that we will do that to all of them,” Mr. Rai said.

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