Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ethnic oiltappers feel logging company heat

Ethnic oiltappers feel logging company heat

Ethnic oiltappers feel logging company heat

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.

Some 200

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.

The letter

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

collect oil".

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.

The

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

trouble.

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

Sokhun.

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

treating wood.

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.

The villager

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

attack.

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.

A delegation

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.

The officer

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.

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