More than 200 villagers in Preah Vihear’s Kulen district set fire to an economic land concessionaire’s property yesterday after the company said the residents would have to wear official identification to enter and farm on what they say is their own land.
Sem Lom, one of the local residents, claims that the company, Seladamex, built a fence to cordon off the land, and ordered anyone seeking access to the area to don official IDs with the firm’s name, which triggered a two-day protest.
“We were surprised when the company ordered them to wear identity cards issued by the company. We [can] enter our farm … why do we need permission from the company?” Lom said.
“The villagers are very angry. We set fire to the fence and a guard post. The company did not have the right to order us to wear cards to enter our fields,” he added.
Houn Chan Thoeun, a representative of the community, said that the directive, which was allegedly put in place last month, applies to anyone 18 years and older.
“And now the company starts to block the villagers from entering the field if someone does not have an identity card,” he said.
Lor Chan, a coordinator for the rights group Adhoc in Preah Vihear, said that the move, which occurs amid a dispute over contested land between the company and the villagers, was a “violation of freedom”.
In a rare case of agreement between authorities and local activists, Chum Puy, the Kulen district governor, said that he will not allow the company to proceed with their alleged plans to make the IDs mandatory.
“Now, the authority is asking the company why they are doing this,” he said.
Seladamex Co Ltd, a Cambodian-owned agribusiness, was established in 2007, according to the company’s official website, which said it cultivates cotton for the textile industry and has a factory in Battambang.
It was granted a 10,000-hectare land concession in Preah Vihear for a rubber plantation, where, its website says, it will work hand-in-hand with locals while hoping to “improve the lives of these farmers and help them to step out of the poverty cycle.”
The company could not be reached for comment yesterday.