Vietnamese firm Gia Lai Co Ltd is hoping to establish a land concession of more than 9,000 hectares along the border with Vietnam in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district, officials said Tuesday.
In cooperation with the Cambodian military, the firm wants to cut back the forest along the border and establish a rubber plantation, O’Yadaw district Governor Hen Bunthan said.
“No activity has started yet. The plan is scheduled for along the border in cooperation with Military Region One,” he said.
Government officials and company representatives made a survey of the proposed concession in February.
Nguyen Sinh, Gia Lai Co Ltd director, could not be reached by e-mail on Tuesday.
It was not immediately clear on Tuesday whether the firm is private or state owned, though it shares the name of a Vietnamese province in the Central Highlands that has been the site of unrest among the region’s ethnic minority Montagnards, thousands of whom have fled to Cambodia claiming persecution in Vietnam.
Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator of rights group Adhoc, said that letting a Vietnamese firm clear forests may make it harder for asylum-seekers to seek sanctuary in Ratanakkiri province.
“When a company clears the forest, it’s easier for the authorities to find the Montagnards,” he said.
Puoy Loy, Som Thom commune chief in O’Yadaw, said Tuesday that he has been invited along with commune chiefs from Yatung, Pak Nhai and Se San communes to meet with Vietnamese authorities along the border today.
He said he believed the meeting would concern land concessions.
Puoy Loy said that Gia Lai Co Ltd recently gave Pak Nhai commune officials a car as a gift for communal use.
Commenting on the proposed land concession, opposition lawmaker Son Chhay accused Vietnam of encroaching on Cambodian territory. “This is land grabbing by Vietnam,” Son Chhay said. “They start to remove the frontier and go deeper into the country.”
Nguyen Thanh Duc, Vietnamese Embassy spokesman, said he had no immediate information on Gia Lai Co Ltd, but added that the embassy will look into the case.
“Between Gia Lai and Ratanakkiri there will be a lot of things happening,” Nguyen Thanh Duc said. Asked to elaborate, he said he would have to consult with Hanoi, adding that his information has been coming from Ratanakkiri rather than Vietnam. “We have to ask Gia Lai province also,” he said.
Vietnamese farmers living along the border sometimes come to work in Cambodia, and vice versa, he said.
“Cambodian firms sometimes hire Vietnamese people to do farming…. It’s a civil dispute, not a dispute between our two countries,” Nguyen Thanh Duc said.