Villagers from Preah Vihear province’s Rovieng district have accused Try Pheap Engineering & Construction Co Ltd of clearing the remaining 10ha of community land in Romny commune’s O’por village, which was reserved for building a school, a hospital and a pagoda. The local authorities said it has no power to intervene.
A resident, who asked not to be named, told The Post on Thursday that the Boeung Tonle Mrech community land was rich in natural resources and the forest supports the livelihoods of the Kuoy ethnic community.
He said the area was acknowledged as community land by the Ministry of Environment in 2010, but it had been encroached upon by locals and people who moved in recently from other communities, and especially by the Try Pheap group that has been operating rubber plantations and growing cashew nuts in the area since 2011.
“The area was previously covered by forest, but now that has gone and all that remains now are cashew nuts and rubber plantations,” he said.
He added that the Boeung Tonle Mrech community land covered 2,351ha, most of which was forested, but 10ha was reserved for special purposes.
Try Pheap and local authorities had promised to build a school, a pagoda and a health centre on the reserved land for the people’s benefit, he said, but they had not done so.
The resident said that when Try Pheap encroached on the community land, the ethnic indigenous community protested and complained to local authorities for intervention.
But he said Try Pheap then filed a complaint against the people for interrupting the company’s work. The move, he said, was intended as intimidation so no one would dare protest again.
“The company sued several people. Some were charged by the court and will appear to answer questions on July 25.
“No one dares to interrupt them because the company is very rich. The villagers no longer protest because the company warned it would sue again,” he said.
Another villager, who also requested anonymity, said Try Pheap seems to be taking advantage of the local people because it had not built any schools, pagodas or health clinics – and now residents had even lost their community land.
“There is one school in the village, but it only has six rooms. The nearest secondary school, pagoda and health centre are about 10km away,” he said.
Romny commune chief Khut Ry told The Post that Try Pheap is planting trees to surround the reserved land. He said he had no authority to do anything and encouraged the villagers to talk to the company directly.
He said he understood from Try Pheap and the community that residents had agreed that the company could take half the reserved land to build a factory, with the remaining half reserved to build a pagoda, a health centre and a school.
“Local people are concerned that the company lied to them and I asked them to talk with the company directly. If they are afraid of the company cheating them, they should talk the issue over clearly with them,” Ry said.
A Try Pheap administrative manager, who identified himself as Sarom, briefly told The Post that events had not transpired as the villagers claimed. He then hung up the phone and said he was busy in a meeting.
Preah Vihear Environment Department director Ear Sokha said Try Pheap received more than 9,000ha of dead forest land from the government in an economic land concession in the Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary.
He could not confirm the villagers’ allegations but said that since 2013, many people encroached on the community land and the authorities had taken legal action against them.
The government issued a letter taking the land back from the community and classified it as a protected area, Sokha said.
Lor Chan, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said people had reacted so strongly because Try Pheap was using the reserved land only for its benefit and had not fulfilled its promises.
“People said that eventually, the company would take all the land because the area originally covered 2,000ha and now they are left with a tiny plot.
“It would be good if the company built a pagoda and a school. If they did that, the villagers would not protest. But the company took the land to build a rubber factory, rather than building things for public benefit. Try Pheap is very rich and can do what it wants in the area,” he said.