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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - R'kiri farmers claim soldiers are blocking access to their crops

R'kiri farmers claim soldiers are blocking access to their crops

Villagers say DM Group has called in soldiers to bar them from harvesting crops on their land, which is being claimed by the company

 
NATIVE LANDS

Land-grabbing has emerged as a serious issue among ethnic minorities in Ratanakkiri, where more than 3,000 hectares of land have been seized by rich businessmen, according to Ek Yothin, provincial director for the Indigenous Community Support Organisation.

ETHNIC minority villagers in Ratanakkiri province held a protest Monday, claiming they were denied access to their crops by soldiers, and called on provincial authorities to intervene.

Villager Phin Kambor said that the incident happened Sunday when soldiers prevented him and other villagers from harvesting their soybeans and peanuts.

"We are here to ask the governor to intervene for us so we can access our land and farm our soybeans and peanut crops," he said Monday, adding that now was the time to sell their crops at the market.

Ongoing dispute

Monday's protest is the latest act in an ongoing land dispute between 140 families from the Patang village of Lumphat district and the agricultural firm DM Group.

In 2005 the villagers filed a complaint against the company for grabbing 700 hectares of farm land, but in 2006 DM countersued the villagers for destroying their newly planted rubber trees and not respecting the company's permission to farm the land.

The latest conflict only concerns  six hectares of the land, but Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator of local rights group Adhoc, called it a violation of the villagers' right to harvest their crops.

"They should be allowed to collect the crops because it is their land. It is like confiscating their land and then killing them," he said Monday, calling on local authorities to take action.

Moung Poy, Ratanakkiri provincial governor, had not received the villagers' request Monday but said they would likely get access to the crops after local authorities were finished investigating.

"I do not know what their request is, but if they are only asking to collect their crops from the farm, it can be negotiated and district authorities will investigate the case when we receive the complaint," Moung Poy said.

Protester Lan Nin, 49, said Monday that he had also asked for the release of community representative Yang Thorn, who was arrested and taken for  questioning  at Ratanakkiri Provincial Court on November 27.

"We will ask the court to release one of our villagers [Yang Thorn] from prison," he said.

Yang Thorn was arrested for allegedly destroying DM's rubber trees, with Adhoc condemning the use of police violence during the arrest. Svin Vev, another community representative, was charged with criminal offences and is still on the run from authorities.

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