Provincial authorities in Ratanakkiri have warned ethnic Jarai villagers that they will be arrested if they continue to stop bulldozers belonging to a Vietnamese company from clearing forest in O’Yadav district’s Paknhai commune, community leaders said yesterday.
The warning comes just over a week after Lom villagers confiscated the keys and batteries of bulldozers belonging to Company 72, a firm working in an economic land concession zone granted to Men Sarun Co that villagers claim is part of their protected area.
Sav Finh, leader of Lom village’s forestry protection committee, said provincial and forestry administration officials visited the cleared area late last week to warn villagers not to take direct action against the company again.
“The authority told us directly not to stop the bulldozers again or we will be arrested in accordance with the law because the area is granted to the company,” he said.
The site for clearing was part of an area used for “slash and burn” farming on which the minority ethnic villagers had worked for years and depended on for their livelihoods, he said.
“The authorities said we were compensated for the slash-and-burn farmland, but we do not need the money. We need our farming land. We, the Jarai ethnic group, are unable to do other work apart from working on this land.”
O’Yadav district governor Dork Sar said the forest belonged to the state and that, if the company had been granted the land, the villagers had no right to stop the company’s activities.
“If the villagers continue to stop the machinery and remove batteries and keys, the authorities will arrest them,” he said, adding that farmland had already been reserved for the group.
Chan Saveth, senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, said the villagers were not happy with any economic land concessions that led to deforestation.
“The threat of arrest is a violation of the minority group’s rights, and protest is part of advocacy to find justice and a solution,” he said.