KHOUY minority people from Preah Vihear Province's Pro Me Commune say officials
from a logging company have threatened them with violence if villagers continue
to tap oil from trees located in the company's concession.
families from Pro Me sent a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the President
of the National Assembly, Prince Ranariddh, asking the Government to intervene
with the Taiwanese-owned Cambodia Cherndar Plywood Company.
said that at meeting with Preah Vihear's Governor Prep Tan on January 31 it was
agreed that Cherndar was not allowed to "touch any tree from which the villages
A second meeting was held on April 7, attended by the
District Chief Touch Vong, villagers and local authorities, to solve the problem
between the concessionaire and the villages.
At the meeting, Leang Kim
Srou, a representative of Chernda Plywood, promised the villagers that they
would have access to their oil trees.
But at a third meeting on April 24
at the Cherndar Plywood office in Donma village - which local authorities did
not attend - a company representative told the villagers that they should not
come into the forest concession to tap oil from cher teal trees.
company's representative reportedly told the villagers that Preah Vihear's
Governor, Prep Tan, didn't know the rules under which the concessionaires
operate. The villagers were warned that RCAF soldiers hired to guard the
concession would be used against them if they came into the forest. They were
told the cutting of oil trees would begin on April 28. "But the rain came so
cutting has been delayed," said a villager.
When contacted by the Post a
Cherndar Plywood company executive, Thai Hang Meng, said the company respects
the law. He said the problem was incited by someone from the village who asked
for a gift from the company, but when the company refused they began to make
Hang Meng said Cherndar Plywood's activity is monitored by 17
Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DFW) officers . "My company does not make
any mistakes. Maybe some people are trying to defame my company. My company will
not cut trees of the people who tap oil. It is a traditional job for them and we
will allow them to continue."
Ty Sokhun, the Director General of the
Department of Forestry and Wildlife, said he has not received any complaints
from the villagers.
"According to the rules of the Forestry Sub-decree
Article 5.5, the company must be in agreement with the local community and the
provincial and district authorities before they start logging. I saw the
agreement between the community and [Cherndar Plywood]. If the people
traditionally collect oil from these trees, the company cannot cut them," said
A villager - who did not want to be named because he feared for
his safety - told the Post he was not sure how long the village has been there,
but it is "a very long time, more than 50 years." He said his father used to
take oil from the trees in the forest.
In the past they sold the oil
across the border in Laos, but now bandits roam the forest. Many of the oil
traders had their bullocks stolen while carting the oil along forest tracks, and
some traders were killed.
So now they sell the oil locally. Buyers come
from Phnom Penh to purchase the oil, which is used to manufacture paints and for
He said 90 percent of the families in the village are in
the oil collection business. It is the main income for the village. Many people
do not plant rice or vegetables as they make all their money from oil. Some
families claim collection rights to as many as 150 trees.
said people still go into the forest to collect the oil, "but now they fear for
their lives". He said so far no one from the village has been attacked since the
company issued its warning, but people are afraid.
He talked to one
soldier in the village who patrols the forest for the logging company. The
soldier said he would not kill anyone from the village as he was from there too,
but warned that soldiers from outside the area might be more willing to
The villagers met with the First Deputy Governor of Preah Vihear,
who told them if the villages gave up 50 per cent of the trees they claim then
he might be able to broker a compromise with the company.
from Pro Me Commune told the Post they visited the Ministry of Interior twice to
lodge a formal complaint. But they were told by an officer at the complaints
desk that they were wasting their time. He said Cherndar Plywood was a big
company which had invested a lot of money in Cambodia so the villagers had no
chance of winning against such a powerful business interest.
told the villagers that Cherndar was legally allowed to operate in the
concession area and, besides, the villagers do not pay tax money to the
Government from their oil business.
"All the concession is interested in
is making money from the forest. They don't care about the villagers who use the
oil trees," said a member of the delegation.
The company started
operations there in mid-1999. Before then a Thai company had logged the area,
destroying many of the oil trees closest to the village. Now the villagers must
go deeper into the forest.
"We just want to use the trees that have been
marked for oil collection. And we want the company to stop threatening the
people who come to collect the oil. We do not want to make trouble for the
company or Government officials, but the people of the village are very
worried," a villager said.