One day after hostages were briefly detained in a Preah Vihear province land dispute with Chinese concessionaire Rui Feng International, another protest has flared up against the company in a nearby commune over the demarcation of contested property.
More than 40 villagers from 80 families in Chheb district’s M’lou Prey I commune demonstrated yesterday morning against a group measuring more than 16 hectares of land claimed by residents.
“The chief of the village, commune, and [representatives of] Rui Feng company demarcated into our land where we’re living, and we protested to stop them,” said resident 46-year-old Sorn Vuthy. “After the demarcation is completed, they will tell us to dismantle our homes and we’ll be forced to leave. Authorities just told us they will find a new place [for us].”
The villagers, however, are refusing to leave, claiming that their presence predates that of the company’s. Vuthy also alleged that corruption was occurring side by side with development. Families that are able to pay local authorities can buy more distance between their land and what’s being measured, he said.
Commune chief Heng Phuon, however, denied the corruption allegations and said authorities were not measuring the land for the company, but for widening the road.
“The villagers just lived there between 2013 and 2014, not longer than that. We told them to leave, because there is a government plan to expand the road,” he said, adding that the authorities have provided another place for them.
Lor Chann, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that the act is a “violation of human rights”.
“The company does what it wants, but the villagers cannot,” Chann said.
Rui Feng is no stranger to spats with area residents in Preah Vihear, many of whom are ethnic Kuoy minorities. Adhoc yesterday called on authorities to try to solve land disputes in the province so as to avoid any more protests that only make it more difficult to find solutions.
In March, residents of the same district protesting yesterday, Chheb, blocked tractors belonging to Rui Feng, which has been granted 8,841 hectares for agro-development.
On Monday, villagers in Brame commune ratcheted up their opposition to the company – and another Chinese firm called Lan Feng – by confiscating bulldozers and briefly holding hostage two drivers.
About 24 hours later, on Tuesday afternoon, the men were let go and the machinery relinquished following the promise of negotiations, which took place yesterday.
Sou Serey, Preah Vihear deputy provincial governor, said late yesterday afternoon that the discussion was going well, but that no decisions had been made.
But at least one village representative, Roeung Khan, 50, was not offering major concessions. Khan said villagers told the authorities they don’t want the company in the commune at all.
“Please make the company go away, because it causes bad effects for our community.”
Attempts to reach both Lan Feng and Rui Feng through the company’s Cambodian translator were unsuccessful.