After villagers in Preah Vihear’s Brame commune briefly held two drivers hostage and confiscated bulldozers on Monday due to an ongoing land dispute, two Chinese concessionaire companies and provincial authorities agreed yesterday to temporarily cease the clearing of contested land in the area.
During a meeting with the Chinese firms and authorities yesterday, 200 community members demanded Rui Feng International and Lan Feng halt the three-year clearing project on their lands as it greatly reduces the standard of living of the 367 families, many of whom are ethnic Kuoy minorities.
“The company cleared our forest, resin trees and farming lands, making us poor and leading us to lose out ethnic identification,” said community representative Nuon Mon.
In response to the demand, Sou Serey, Preah Vihear's deputy governor who presided over the meeting, said that while the province has no right to withdraw ELCs, they will work on resolving the land dispute.
“We have also have no right to close the company, but we’re trying to solve the ongoing dispute,” Serey said. “It’s the right of the people to not accept it.”
Villagers requested a six-month cessation, but Serey could not confirm how long the clearing will be halted.
Currently, officials are demarcating property to determine ownership of the lands.
“We are waiting for the commune to map the community and our committee will demarcate the community,” Serey said.
The decision was several days after Brame community members briefly kidnapped two company drivers and confiscated bulldozers on Monday to bolster their opposition. The drivers were subsequently released and the machinery returned to the companies the following day.
Separately, in Mondulkiri, about 100 Phnong ethnic minorities in Keo Seima district yesterday seized a bulldozer owned by Vietnamese company Boeun Peouk in protest of land clearing in the area.
According to villagers, Boeun Peouk has destroyed crops while clearing land in the district and their pleas for discontinuation have fallen on deaf ears.
“We have no hope the provincial authorities can settle it for us,” said community representative Nuon Vin. “We’re not going to hand it over to them so the company can come and settle this dispute.”
The Vietnamese company has been granted 8,926 hectares of land in the area.