Some 200 ethnic Kuoy minority villagers in Preah Vihear’s Chheb district blocked tractors belonging to a Chinese company from bulldozing their rice crops yesterday, the same day that district authorities received a letter from the Interior Ministry instructing them to broker an agreement between villagers and nearby concessionaires.
In a letter dated February 17 – but received by district authorities yesterday, according to district governor Ung Vuthy – Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak told authorities from the provincial level on down to “find a just solution to the land dispute” between local villagers and Chinese concessionaires Rui Feng International and Lan Feng company.
“The Ministry suggests the authorities examine this case, and report to the Ministry of Interior,” Sopheak wrote.
Meanwhile, villagers gathered yesterday to block two tractors owned by Rui Feng that were intent on clearing villagers’ land despite not having notified villagers, according to community representative Da Ry, 44.
“They never told or informed the residents about clearing the land,” he said. “They cannot do this to our farm without resolution.”
Fellow villager Doung Sokhem, 41, said that villagers had inhabited the land since 1979 and had not committed any violence against the tractor operators.
Lor Chan, a provincial coordinator with Adhoc, said that when the rights group’s representatives arrived on the scene, the company had told villagers that they would resolve to the problem after clearing the land.
“When I heard that, I wanted to laugh, because no one ever clears the land and then finds a solution afterward,” he said.
“In the law, the company has to study the effect [of its activities] and find a solution completely so they can clear the land, [or] it will have a dispute if there is still no solution.”
Contact details for Rui Feng were not immediately available, and an employee at Lan Feng said that she was unable to answer questions about what kind of resolution might be offered. District governor Vuthy confirmed receiving the ministry’s order to investigate, but declined to comment on potential resolution.