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Mondulkiri villagers to blame over land row: chief

OFFICIALS in Mondulkiri province’s Bousraa commune office have accused ethnic Phnong villagers of inciting unrest in relation to an ongoing dispute with two international rubber firms, villagers said Thursday.

Nine representatives were summoned to appear at the office earlier this week, following a public forum last month at which eight of the nine raised concerns relating to the dispute with the companies.

By Deng, 44, one of those summoned on Thursday, said the Bousraa commune chief, Keng Nhork, accused her of “inciting people to protest” by raising concerns at last month’s forum, organised by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR).

“He also blamed people for joining the public forum who did not speak in favour of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party,” he said. “The commune chief threatened us that if we meet with NGOs in future, we must get permission from him,” she said.

Socfin KCD, a French-Cambodian joint venture, and the Vietnamese Dak Lak Rubber Company are developing plantations that locals say have eaten into their ancestral farmland in the commune.

According to Khan Channy, 24, Keng Nhork said that villagers at the CCHR forum had accused him of selling land to the companies. However, Khan Channy said, the communities were “not afraid” to confront authorities over the issue.

Keng Nhork said that Thursday’s meeting was intended to clear up suspicions between the authorities and villagers.

“The company cleared the land for development after they got a licence to develop the area from the government, but villagers accused me of thumbprinting the paperwork for the company or selling the land to the company,” he said.

Many villagers had agreed to accept compensation, he added, but 20 percent had refused the offer and continued to protest.

Khaou Phallaboth, chairman of Socfin KCD’s board of directors, said the negotiations between villagers and the company were ongoing.

“It is not hard to deal with the people. It is hard when a group incites a small number of them,” he said.

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