Villagers in Ratanakkiri briefly blocked a national road yesterday, after detaining three rubber plantation workers, to call for intervention in their long-standing land dispute with a Chinese company.
On Friday, 35 villagers from Bakeo and O’Chum districts halted an excavator and detained a man working for Swift Rubber Limited, which was granted an economic land concession that villagers forced from the land claim is illegal.
The worker was held overnight in the home of a villager, before being turned over to police on Saturday. He was later released.
“We agreed to free the driver, but the machinery was impounded [by police],” said Khoem Sok, a representative of 30 families who are locked in the dispute. Many of the families have lived on the contested 168 hectares since 1988, Sok said.
In late March, the court issued an injunction ordering the company to stop clearing – but it has since razed several plots of land to clear the area for a rubber plantation.
After the group handed the worker to the police, the company promised to halt work.
But yesterday a couple arrived to work on the land on behalf of the company. Villagers took both into “custody” and gave them to police who took them in for questioning.
“He admitted he is a worker but said they knew nothing and just followed the company’s orders,” villager Chum Joy said.
Ngen Borin, a company representative, said they were considering filing complaints against the villagers for the illegal detention.
“We are taking action for releasing our workers, and we will ask the authorities and related ministries to find justice for us,” he said.
O’Chum District Governor Sak Sun said the villagers had been living on state land and that the rubber company had occupied the area for decades.
“The Chinese company’s workers go to collect rubber very often. It’s only now that the people catch them – I am suggesting that my superiors find a resolution.”
Provincial police chief Ra Ray and his deputy Phen Dyna declined to comment.