Villagers from three communes in Kompong Chhnang’s Boribor district were blocked Tuesday morning by police as they tried to march to the provincial governor’s office over a dispute with the land and timber giant Pheapimex Co, district officials and an NGO said yesterday.
Penh Ath, 47, of Anh Chanh Roung commune, said police stopped the three groups–totaling about 300 villagers from three communes–and separately asked each group to meet with the deputy district governor instead of provincial governor Touch Marim. The villagers complied.
Mr Marim could not be reached yesterday. However Mr Ath said the villagers were asking officials to help resolve a nearly 10-year-old land dispute with Pheapimex that began in 2001 when the company first tried clear-cutting on a massive 315,000-hectare land concession in 2001 that stretches across Kompong Chhnang and Pursat provinces.
“We want the provincial and district governors to help stop the company from clearing the land because if we don’t have that land, we can’t do the farming,” Ms Ath said.
Nuon Socheat of Trapaing Chan commune said the villagers met with deputy district governor Khuon Saorom after being stopped by police.
“I will send the villagers’ request to the provincial governor, and I will go to discuss it with Pheapimex company,” Mr Saorom said.
Mr Socheat said Pheapimex was clearing between 600 and 700 hectares of the villagers’ land throughout the three communes. He added claimed the company had threatened to charge villagers whose livestock eat acacia trees or destroy cassava.
Representatives for Pheapimex were unavailable.
Cheang Sovanrith, district police chief, acknowledged that authorities stopped the villagers to question them and request that they meet the deputy district governor, who is closer to their communes than the provincial governor. Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said police infringed on the villagers’ rights by stopping the groups.
“I think that the provincial and district governors ought to resolve the case for them [the villagers], because their life is based on those lands,” Mr Ath added.