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Villagers demand millions

More than 200 ethnic families in Mondulkiri’s Sen Monorom town filed complaints to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet and the provincial court yesterday, asking for the cancellation of Villa Development’s land concession and demanding $500 million for allegedly destroying their resin trees.

The complaint is the ninth one launched on behalf of 273 families in the Laoka ethnic community in Sokadom commune after previous complaints were ignored by local authorities, according to villagers, who blamed the lack of attention on the connections between provincial Deputy Governor Yim Luch and his wife, the owner of Villa Development.

Some of the villagers held a press conference at rights group Adhoc’s central office to discuss the almost four-years-long land dispute. Adhoc aided the residents in filing the complaint.

“The company cleared and logged all of our resin trees. We lost both land and forest, so where should we live,” said Plek Mal, 74.

According to Mal, officials initially claimed to protect the forest but later granted 700 hectares of land to Villa Development, who turned it into rubber plantations back in 2011.

The residents are demanding the return of their lands and a total of $500 million for the resin trees allegedly cleared.

“Filing complaints is the villagers’ right and . . . it is up to the government if they believe those villagers,” said Luch, the provincial deputy governor.

Luch distanced himself from the dispute yesterday, saying Villa Development belongs to his wife and her friends. He added that the company already compensated villagers before planting rubber trees.

Company representative Chheang Phakdey could not be reached.

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