Representatives of more than 400 families in Kratie’s Snuol district protested yesterday following the temporary detention of two fellow community members at a demonstration the day before, when locals blocked a road to demand the government find a solution to their land dispute with a rubber firm.
The dispute dates back to 2008, when the Memot Rubber Plantation Company was granted a nearly 9,900-hectare economic land concession in the area, sparking a dispute with residents who had moved into the area at roughly the same time. Since the beginning of the dispute, more families have moved into the area. Authorities had previously told villagers that they had to move off the concession by September of 2017, but when villagers protested at the time, officials promised to remedy the situation.
Villager Met Thy, 50 – who said he had moved into the area in 2015 – said authorities in September floated the idea of granting the villagers the land that they currently occupied within the concession, but that such a solution never materialised. The community began protesting on Sunday in an attempt to stop the company’s bulldozers from clearing land that affected their crops and homes, Thy said.
“I lost hope and belief in the authorities already,” he said. “We have [a] problem and turned to the authorities, but the authorities do not help, and even threatened to kill and jail us.”
Fellow villager Me Saret, who has been in the area since 2008, also said authorities threatened residents not to protest, and that Snuol District Governor Kong Kemny mediated and promised to find a solution.
Kemny yesterday confirmed that two villagers were temporarily detained on Sunday for blocking National Road 7 in Pi Thnou commune after “they insulted authorities and did not comply with authorities’ instructions” to unblock the road. The two were released in the evening after signing a document promising they wouldn’t protest anymore.
Kemny said provincial authorities have created a committee to evaluate the possibility of a social land concession for the people, but noted that only a small proportion of those residing in the area had filed the appropriate documents, despite past entreaties from officials.
“We do not want those people to become the tools of bad people, because based on a previous study, I found out that only about 100 people there are poor and really do not have land. They also filed some documents to the district administration as well,” he said. “But the majority disagreed to file the documents and incited other people to protest for land at different locations. If you want the land, you have to file the documents.”
Bi Vanny, provincial investigator for Adhoc in Kratie province, said people had the right to protest in order to demand a solution from the government, and the government has an obligation to work for the people in a fair manner, without resorting to threats.
Thai Thoeun, administrative assistant at Memot Rubber, agreed villagers had the right to protest, but echoed claims some had been told to protest in order to grab the land.
Villagers were scheduled to protest for a third time this morning.