Ethnic minority villagers in Ratanakkiri province involved in a long-running land dispute with the rubber firm DM Group have accused the company of clearing another 20 hectares of farmland, echoing previous accusations from villagers that the company cleared more than 400 hectare of tribal land and state forest.
The company denied the accusation yesterday, saying it was the legal owner of the property.
Tiem Vanna, a villager representing more than 50 Tampuon minority families in Lumphat district’s Batang commune, said DM Group workers on Monday began clearing the 20 hectares in Batang village, which is used for traditional rotational farming.
“We are really sorrowful to see the remaining rotational farmland is being cleared by this rich firm again,” she said.
Villagers filed a lawsuit in 2005 claiming the company had seized 200 hectares of tribal farmland and filed another complaint in 2008 claming the company grabbed 200 hectares of state forest.
DM Group has claimed it has purchased all their land legally and filed a lawsuit in 2008 stating villagers have trespassed on their land.
DM Group representative Say Chamroeun confirmed that the company began clearing new land recently but said it had been purchased legally outside of Batang village.
He said the freshly cleared land is part of a 310-hectare tract in Sayus Khang Lech and Sayus Khang Koet villages.
“I am happy that the newspaper contacted us because we are a big firm that legally bought the land for development,” he said, adding rubber on the plantation will be ready for harvest in three years.
Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for the local rights group Adhoc, said the 20 hectares are entirely within Batang village, which has been used by the ethnic villagers since 1979.
Kong Srun, the Lumphat district governor, said that DM Group legally purchased more than 300 hectares of land from local villagers, and his office will verify it is clearing the proper land.
“I also had asked my official to look into the paperwork to make sure the firm is occupying the exact hectares they bought, especially, to make sure no villager farmland overlaps,” he said.