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Villagers curse Mondulkiri plantation


Ethnic Phnong community resorts to tradition in dispute with Franco-Cambodian rubber venture.

Photo by: Bill Herod

A Phnong woman attends a traditional ceremony Tuesday in Mondulkiri's Pouteut village to appease their ancestors and protect their land from a local rubber plantation. 

ETHNIC Phnong villagers in Mondulkiri's Bou Sra commune held traditional ceremonies Tuesday to appease ancestral spirits and curse a joint French-Cambodian rubber plantation they say has robbed them of large tracts of communal farmland, participants said.

The ceremony took place in Pouteut village, which lies inside a 10,000-hectare rubber concession granted to the Khaou Chuly Co and French rubber giant Socfin, they said.

"Residents sacrificed a buffalo, dedicating it to the spirits of our ancestors and the neak ta spirits who look after the forests, to help protect our remaining land," said a Phnong community representative who did not want to be named.

"According to our traditional beliefs, if the company continues clearing the land [it] will meet problems."

Bill Herod, an adviser for Village Focus Cambodia who works with Phnong youth, said the ceremony, which took place next to a large rubber company excavator, began with the beating of traditional gongs before the buffalo was sacrificed and its head placed on an altar.

After village elders drank ceremonial rice wine from earthen jars, the villagers then cooked and ate the meat, he added, sharing it with local police.

Pouteut village is one of seven villages in Bou Sra commune that claim to have been affected by the rubber companies, which were granted

their first 2,500-hectare concession in late 2007 and began clearing forest early last year.

Tensions came to a head in December, when angry villagers, claiming the destruction of spirit forests and rotational farmland, torched and smashed machinery belonging to Khaou Chuly Co in the commune's Bou Sra village.

If the company continues clearing the land [it] will have problems.

So far, the community representative said, Socfin has cleared about 200 hectares of rotational farmland in the vicinity of Pouteut village.

"We want to keep the farmland and forests not only for human beings, but also for wild animals.... We do not want to allow any company, whether Khaou Chuly or the French company, to clear the land and forest any further," he said.

Saving the situation

When contacted Wednesday, Socfin General Manager Philippe Monnin declined to comment on the situation.

But in an interview at Bou Sra in April, he told the Post the company was trying to enlist the support of international development agencies - including the French government's French Development Agency - to offset the negative impacts on local communities.

Mondulkiri Deputy Governor Yim Lux said Socfin was offering compensation to people who had lost farmland, but added that villagers were making confusing claims.

"We have already measured the land that belongs to them, but they are claiming more forest land that does not belong to them. For this, they have to adhere to the law," he said.

But Herod said that despite the relaxed atmosphere Tuesday, locals were still uncertain about the rubber plantation and what its long-term impact would be.

"[The Phnong] didn't know which way to turn. They are still unclear about exactly what's happening ... or where they're supposed to farm," he said.

"From the perspective of the [Phnong], the giant machines ploughing their forests, rice fields, gardens, graves and other spiritual sites are weapons of mass destruction."



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