EVICTED villagers from Tras commune in Svay Rieng province called on local NGOs to intervene in their land dispute with the Peam Chaing Rubber Company on Tuesday, saying a group of farmers seeking permission to harvest crops on their former farmland were driven from the future plantation site the previous day by security staff firing guns in the air.
“Yesterday, a group of us tried to approach the staff of the rubber company at their onsite office,” said village representative Yea Yeoung. “We were only going to ask that they stop clearing our farms long enough for us to bring in the harvest and the rest could be negotiated later, but they did not listen to us. In fact, they fired in the air to threaten us. As a consequence, today we filed a complaint with several NGOs and asked for their help, but we did not file a complaint to the Svay Rieng governor’s office or any parliamentarian because we learned a long time ago that nobody wants to help us.”
... we learned a long time ago that nobody wants to help us."
About 400 families from Romeas Hek district’s Tras commune accuse the rubber company of seizing and clearing the land awarded to them as an economic concession before villagers had time to harvest their cassava and cashew crops. Since the company took the land in December last year, villagers have defied the order to relocate and returned to their fields to harvest their crops.
Monday’s gunfire is the second report by villagers of potentially deadly force being used by employees at the rubber company in order to intimidate and harass former residents. On December 28, villagers say company staff charged at local farmers in heavy land-clearing vehicles, physically driving them off the land.
Villagers' pleas for assistance, however, were largely ignored on Tuesday as local authorities insisted the company was acting within its right and would pay compensation to the displaced villagers at some point in the future.
“They can protest all they want, but it won’t change the fact that this land belongs to the company, who received it from the government as an economic concession,” said Tras commune deputy chief Hem Soun. “The company will provide compensation to the affected families later. Keep in mind that villagers have been farming here for a long time under anarchic conditions and without land titles.”