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Villagers lay curse on rubber plantation in Mondulkiri province

ETHNIC Phnong villagers held a traditional ceremony in Mondulkiri province’s Pechreada district yesterday to curse a rubber plantation they say has robbed them of large tracts of rotational farmland and spirit forests.

Khan Channy, a community representative, said villagers made offerings of pigs and jars of rice wine in order to curse Socfin KCD, a French-Cambodian rubber company, and make it “vanish like a dead pig”.

The company – a joint venture between French rubber giant Socfin and the Khaou Chuly Group – was granted its first 2,500-hectare rubber concession in late 2007 and began clearing in early 2008.

More than 800 families in seven villages in Bou Sraa commune – which is made up predominantly of Phnong villages – claim to have been affected by the rubber plantation, now expected to cover 10,000 hectares.

Kob Neith, another community representative, said the company had offered residents of her village three choices in exchange for vacating their land: to sell their land to the company for US$80 per hectare; to exchange the land for replacement plots elsewhere; and to harvest rubber in designated areas and then sell it back to the company.

She said that although a decision has not yet been made, around 100 tractors and bulldozers were clearing land at the plantation site.
Kob Neith said there had been no response to repeated petitions and requests from affected villagers.

Yesterday’s ceremony followed a similar one held in June last year.

“We want a shared 350-hectare area for the whole community to support our living. It was the last resort to organise the ceremony to curse the company to vanish after the community has failed in dealing with the company,” she said.

Kul Midy, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said a provincial committee met in late June to prepare for the registration of community land in Mondulkiri, but that Bou Sraa commune had not been on the agenda.

“The villagers have the right to hold a ritual to curse the company like this to express their feelings to the authorities so that the authorities may help solve their land dispute with the company,” he said.

Mondulkiri provincial governor Chan Yoeun declined to comment yesterday.

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