More than 300 ethnic villagers at two separate locations in Preah Vihear province conducted traditional ceremonies yesterday beseeching the spirits for an end to their ongoing land dispute with the Chinese-owned Rui Feng sugar company.
Rui Feng and four subsidiaries were granted close to 40,000 hectares for sugarcane plantations in the province and have been clearing the land, which villagers claim encompasses their ancestral plots.
The ethnically Kuoy villagers conducted the cursing rituals in Chey Sen and Tbeng Meanchey districts, calling on spirits – known as neak ta – to help find a solution for their dispute.
About $75 was collected to purchase a cow’s head, two pig’s heads and fruit, and at one point a spirit possessed one of the villagers.
“Our spirits told us that they alone cannot help us unless the villagers work together to reclaim the land back,” said Sao Khun Lao, 29, who says she has lost 10 hectares of her land.
Security personnel observed the rituals but did not intervene or break up the ceremonies.
The Post reported last month on a campaign by villagers across three districts to oppose the company, with locals camping out on the land and attempting to stop machinery from clearing their farms, though with little success.
Ung Vuthy, Tbeng Meanchey district governor, said the villagers were free to conduct their rituals, and maintained that the company had already solved the problems of those actually affected by the clearing.
Rui Feng administration manager Kuy Yoeun denied allegations of land grabbing and said the company was unbothered by the cursing ceremony.