ABOUT 260 Pursat province families protested against the Pheapimex Group yesterday, barring the development company from clearing the community’s forest and farmlands for acacia and cassava plantations.
Kun Veng, the villagers’ representative, said residents from the Kbal Trach and Onlong Thnort communes were preventing staff from destroying the villagers’ land.
“We stopped them from deforesting the jungle – from which we used to get benefits – for acacia plantations because this could harm our livelihoods in the near future,” Kun Veng said.
In January 2000, Pheapimex was granted a 315,028-hectare land concession spanning Kampong Chhnang and Pursat provinces. The company, owned by Choeung Sopheap – the wife of Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin – has come under fire because the concession far exceeds the legal limit of 10,000 hectares.
Sok Chamroeun, one of the villagers, said the development threatened thousands of families.
“The government takes into consideration only the company’s interests, not our villagers’ interests,” Sok Chamroeun said. “No authority has come down to help us.”
Kbal Trach commune chief Doung Sarin said that although the land villagers benefitted from was being destroyed, Pheapimex “was granted an economic land concession from the government, so low-ranking officials like us cannot solve the problem”.
Pursat provincial governor Chhay Sareth said he was “busy” and could not comment until his return to the provincial town.
Ty Kimtong, Pheapimex’s provincial representative and Pursat deputy governor, said the company’s seizure of land from the villagers was legal because it had been granted to them by the government.
In response to the high number of villager protests, Pheapimex’s Choeng Sopheap submitted a petition last February to Prime Minister Hun Sen reporting that the company’s creation of a tree replanting project for the year, was meant to stimulate the local economy.
“Our company has employed around 5,000 local workforces, and each of them receives a salary of 200,000 riel and 20 kilograms of rice for each month, as well as accommodation,” he said.