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Prey Lang villagers speak out

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Chheang Vuthy, from Kampong Thom province, speaks at a press conference in Phnom Penh yesterday organised by NGO Forum in an effort to find a resolution to the Prey Lang dispute.

Representations for villagers embroiled in a land dispute with Vietnamese-owned CRCK Rubber Development Company in Kampong Thom province said officials have used intimidation to halt protests over the company’s development of an area in Prey Lang forest.

The claims were made at a press conference held by the NGO Forum, an umbrella group of organisations operating in Cambodia, during which representatives said local police have compiled a list of villagers they say are inciting others to protest.

Last month hundreds of residents from four provinces surrounding the 200,000 hectare forest defied police and local officials to protest the clearing of sections of the forest by CRCK.

Sandan district Governor Sim Vanna said at the time that CRCK had been granted a 6,044 hectare land concession by the government last year to plant rubber.

Kampong Thom deputy Governor Uth Sam An said on Monday that the land being developed by KRCK was not communal land, as alleged by local villagers, but part of a concession made to a previous company, and therefore villagers had no right to the land.

During yesterday’s workshop, villager representatives claimed that police from three communes in Sandan district had visited five villagers to record their names for a complaint to be filed by CRCK in provincial court, claiming they were illegally inciting residents to protest.

“[Police] have tried to find many ways to threaten us, but we were protesting to save Prey Lang forest,” said Chheang Vuthy, a villager representative, at the workshop.

Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for local rights group Licadho, said the villagers were fully within their rights to conduct peaceful protests and urged that CRCK show evidence that they have a right to the land they are clearing.

“As in previous cases when villagers protest, the authorities threaten villagers by filing complaints to the court. This is not a good way to reach a solution,” he said.  

Sandan district Governor Sim Vanna said yesterday that the villagers had largely stopped their protest and denied that police were gathering names for a legal complaint.

“I don’t know about the police going to the village to take down names,” he said.

Vong Phan, a village representative, said she would like the government to recognize Prey Lang land as community land because it is a “rice pot” for people in four provinces, referring to residents’ reliance on the forest for their livelihoods.

She said about 20,000 families in Preah Vihear, Kratie, Steung Treng and Kampong Thom provinces rely on the forest.

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