More than 250 villagers in Preah Vihear province’s Kulen district protested yesterday against a local rubber company clearing their farmland, protesters and rights workers said.
The demonstration lasted until the authorities stepped in and ordered Sila Damix rubber company to halt clearing activities in Srayong commune, said district governor Chom Puy.
“I ordered the company to immediately stop clearing the land until affected villagers accept the resolution,” Mr Puy said, referring to plans to relocate residents to new plots of land outside of the company’s concession zone. The government granted Sila Damix 9,000 hectares for rubber plantations in 2009, he said.
Forty-eight families, owning more than 170 hectares of farmland within the land concession, required relocation, according to preliminary research by district authorities, he added.
However, protester Meas Ren, who represents 124 affected families, said that 762 hectares of their farmland are affected and more than 100 hectares have been cleared.
“A few days before the protest, we were repeatedly threatened [with arrest] by commune authorities if we dared to hold the protest,” she said. “But the more land we lose, the more we are vulnerable to starvation so we aren’t scared of them.” Mr Puy confirmed that commune authorities intimidated protesters.
“But the commune chief was so upset after his wife’s [recent] death, [and] in particular he was so drunk, which is why he made the mistake of intimidating villagers,” he said.
Hor Nead, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that so far the authorities have neglected to find a solution to the dispute. “Villagers protested because they have had their farmland cleared while a resolution has not yet been made to properly compensate affected families,” he said.
Sila Damix rubber company could not be reached for comment yesterday. The company has cleared and planted rubber trees on more than 400 hectares since 2009, said commune police chief Chan Satya.