Villagers: Land Concession Clearing Spirit Forest

Ratanakkiri ethnic minority villagers say despite their protests, oper­ators of a land concession along the Vietnamese border have clear­ed more than 100 hectares of spirit for­est since February, provincial officials and a rights worker said Thurs­day.

The Takhmau town-based company Heng Development Co Ltd, tasked in 2005 with providing a controversially large consignment of timber for the new National As­sembly building, has also declined to cooperate with requests for information about its 8,700-hectare rubber and acacia concession in An­dong Meas district, said Em So­vann, de­puty chief of Nhang commune, the site of the concession.

Dim Sopheavoan, a company representative, said Heng Develop­ment had received authorization for tree planting, which began early this year.

She referred further questions Thursday to company representative Taing Huot, who said he was not in fact involved with Heng Develop­ment.

Em Sovann said Wednesday he had forwarded villager complaints to Ratanakkiri provincial authorities in late May but has yet to inform the provincial court.

“The company seems to look down on local officials because they’ve never shown up or ap­peared to sit down with us for a talk,” Em Sovann said.

“Villagers also sometimes blame us for not trying to find resolutions for them, but we are instead powerless to take action on this matter, which is why I need intervention by provincial governors,” he added.

“A majority of the company’s workers are Vietnamese who un­derstand little of the Khmer language,” he added.

Ratanakkiri provincial Governor Muong Poy said Thursday that he intended to visit the site to verify villagers’ claims but had been unable to do so because of poor road conditions.

“So far I haven’t received any official report over these allegations, but I too want to find out whether the villagers’ allegations are true or untrue,” he said by telephone.

Geographic coordinates published on the Agriculture Mini­stry’s Web site outlining the concession show a thin, jagged, J-shaped plot of land hugging the Vietnamese border.

The company was given permission for “clearance along boundary” in 2006, according to the Web site.

Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said Thursday that Nhang commune, the site of a stream marking the Vietnamese border, was an important location for fleeing Montag­nard asylum seekers from Viet­nam.

“I have witnessed the company just cut down luxury trees for timber only,” he said. “I’ve seen that economic land concessions are generally just for collecting wood, not for development,” he added.

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