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Angry villagers confront workers

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Jarai minority villagers in Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadav district protested in two locations yesterday against a Vietnamese company that community leaders say has been clearing their protected land and forcing villagers to accept inadequate compensation.

The Vietnamese firm known as Company 72, operating in an economic land concession area granted to Cambodian company Men Sarun Co, Ltd, has continued to raze villagers’ farmland despite repeated requests to halt the land clearing, they said.

Community leader Sev Hem said 30 angry villagers directly confronted five Company 72 workers and their bulldozers in Yatung commune’s Ten village yesterday.

“One thousand hectares of [community] slash and burn farmland has been cleared [in the past two years]. In the past week alone, they have cleared two more hectares of protected forest,” he said. “If they keep clearing, violence will occur.”

Villagers and local rights group Adhoc claim Company 72 had forced 10 families in Ten village to give their thumbprints to an agreement accepting $200 per hectare in compensation.

“They said that whether I took the money or not, they would still take the land. I accepted it because I was afraid that I would lose the land and get nothing,” resident Romas Vet said.

Another 22 villagers from Lom village in Paknhai commune gathered in a separate protest against the company yesterday.

Yatung commune chief Ro-chorm Vin acknowledged the forest clearing, saying that local authorities do not know how to address the problem.

“I do not know how to solve this problem because when we go and ask them to stop, they stop. But when we leave, they carry on clearing,” he said.

Dork Sar, O’Yadav district governor, said provincial officials will meet with villagers tomorrow to discuss the problem.

“We have invited Men Sarun Co, Ltd but they haven’t come to any meetings,” he said.

According to records from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Men Sarun Co, Ltd  was granted a 20,000 hectare economic land concession in 1999 as part of a joint venture to develop palm oil and coffee plantations in O’Yadav district.

The company could not be reached yesterday.

Additional reporting by Kevin Ponniah



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