About 300 villagers in Preah Vihear’s Rovieng district gathered in front of Romdoh commune hall yesterday to protest against a mining company drilling on their land and what they characterised as a broken promise by the company and commune officials to return to the negotiating table.
Demonstrators said that authorities and company representatives had failed to meet them yesterday as promised, but commune chief Som Virak maintained yesterday that he had told villagers on Wednesday that the meeting would have to be postponed.
Villagers, however, were unconvinced.
“They should have informed us in advance if they were not coming, and they let us wait for them all morning for nothing,” said Sreung Simphorn, 60. “It is a trick and a lie [from the authorities] to their own people.”
Simphorn added that his family had bought 25 hectares of land in Romdoh in 2004, but risked losing it to the company for what he thought was an unfair price of $1,000 per hectare.
TPB-TV Development was granted licenses to drill for marble, but was told in the grants that drilling must stop if it affected locals, villagers say.
Lor Chann, a provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said he had visited the mining site yesterday, and saw workers there – armed with an air-powered homemade rifle – drilling on the disputed land to depths of 25 to 30 metres.
However Virak, the commune chief, said yesterday that officials would inspect the works, and that most villagers’ claims were not legitimate.
“There are only 63 affected families,” he said. “Among those, there are only three to four old families. Besides them, all of them are new settlers who have just cleared state land to own and sell without listening to authorities.”
TPB-TV representative Kim Nhor, meanwhile, denied affecting villagers’ lands, and said villagers had not been constructively negotiating.
“They have not even said how much they want” for the land, he said. “If they did, it would be easy for us to suggest it to our superiors for … resolution.”