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Bunong villagers upset at industrialist’s silence

Ethnic Bunong communities in Mondulkiri’s Bousraa commune will soon hold protests that will call on French industrialist Vincent Bollore to honour promises his firm made during a meeting with them in Paris in October, a representative has said.

His Bollore investment group is a shareholder in the Socfin Group, a rubber and palm oil giant that obtained economic land concessions in Bousraa in 2007 through a joint venture between Socfinasia and the Khao Chuly Group (KCD).

More than 800 families were affected by the concessions. While most eventually took relocation or compensation packages, the community says some 200 families still have land remaining in concession areas and are waiting for a solution.

On October 28, Bollore met with representatives from communities in five countries affected by Socfin’s alleged “land grabbing”.

Neth Prak, who represented the Bousraa families, asked for independent experts to be sent to assess remaining disputes, for some communal land to be given and for further compensation to be paid. At the time, Bollore said it would pass on the requests to Socfin and respond within a month.

But three months have gone by and the community is getting fed up, Prak says.

“It’s not only me who is angry. It’s the population. For me, I’m disappointed. I tried hard to negotiate between us and the company and make a better situation,” he said.

“I don’t know what to do next. The people already want to do some demonstrations in a few days and I cannot control them.”

Both Prak and rights groups assisting the affected communities say they believe Socfin is stalling the process, despite it and the Bollore group having common members on their boards, including Vincent Bollore himself.

Genevieve Paul, of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), said Bollore could apply “significant leverage” on Socfinasia.

According to FIDH, Bollore owns a 21.8 per cent share of the company. It also owns a 38.7 per cent share of Socfin, Socfinasia’s majority shareholder.

“We’re also encouraging Bollore to exercise leverage by withdrawing its shares,” she said.

On December 23, Bollore wrote to the communities to say that Socfin had not yet been able to respond to the requests and promised a reply by mid-January.

Bollore has not replied to a request for comment sent last week. Socfin-KCD representatives declined to comment yesterday.

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