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Villagers fence off disputed land

Eighty villagers representing 384 families in Rattanakri’s Andong Meas district yesterday stopped a Vietnamese company from clearing a contested segment of protected forest by building a fence and detaining four bulldozers, according to local representatives.

The Jing Ly Investment Co Ltd began bulldozing the disputed area in April despite objections. In response, the villagers, including committee members from Kahol village in Malik commune, placed fences around 360 hectares of forest, according to a provincial representative of rights group Adhoc

Committee member Sorl Yorn, 41, said that a police officer, who guards the property with a rifle, warned the people not to stop the bulldozers, but the villagers far outnumbered the policeman, who fled, along with three drivers and three assistants, abandoning the vehicles.

“The officer [told] us we have no right to stop the clearing,” said Yorn, “But we replied they have no right to clear this forest, and then they just escaped.”

Villagers then tagged the bulldozers with red ink which read: “No clearing the protected forest land and wildlife habitats”.

If the company keeps clearing, the villagers will intercept it again, he said.

Chhay Thy, Rattanakiri provincial coordinator for Adhoc, said the villagers filed a complaint to all levels of authority in 2013 demanding the 360 hectares of land be cut out of an economic land concession to Jing Ly, but their claim has not been addressed. “This is a non-violent action, so it is legal,” Thy said.

District Governor Norng Darith said authorities had not needed to intervene in the villagers’ protest. “If they do something illegal, we will educate them accordance with the law,” he said, adding the land had been legally granted to the firm.

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