About 300 villagers from provin-ces bordering the endangered Prey Lang forest are planning to protest at the rubber firm CRCK today.
Between them and the company lie 500 police and military police officers. One side has guns.
Sim Sean, a representative of Kampong Thom’s Sandan district who has come to the forest to participate in the villagers’ ongoing patrols against illegal loggers, said that even though many of the villagers had become weak – with some developing fevers and wounds on their legs – they remained undaunted in their trek to CRCK, which they should reach at noon today.
“Even though we have had to struggle a lot, we still come to protest,” he said. “We are not afraid of authorities that threaten us; we just want to protect the natural resources.”
Sim Sean said that since villagers began their patrols, they had confiscated three chainsaws and burned 20 cubic metres of illegally logged timber.
Now the villagers’ main problem was a shortage of food and medicine, he said, though the threat of legal action was also a constant worry.
“What we did is not wrong, but we are worried that they will use the court system to arrest us.”
Sim Sean’s journey from Sandan town to the CRCK company was a bumpy, 40-kilometre trip made more difficult by flooding and a series of checkpoints manned by police officers and soldiers, about 30 of whom were deployed in front of CRCK’s gates yesterday.
Chheu Teal commune police chief Men Ron said district police had ordered all commune police officers to come and protect the company, fearing potential violence.
He also said the number of police, military police and soldiers had swelled to about 500, but confided he would rather not to be among them.
“In fact, I don’t want to come to protect the company, but I am a low-level officer, so I have to respect my boss’s orders,” Men Ron said.
In addition to the checkpoints and those stationed outside CRCK, Men Ron said the forest was teeming with police – some actively looking for villagers, others simply waiting for the villagers to come to them.
Yit Sakorn, the police chief of Chheu Teal commune, said the police were carrying guns, but only for protection.
“We do not carry the guns to threaten villagers, but if the villagers do something to us or to the company, that means that they are perpetrators,” he said.
Sandan district police chief Oung Moly said he had ordered such a large deployment of police because he was afraid that the villagers would destroy company property.
“We banned them from coming inside the company. We just allow them to stand at the gate,” he said.
Sandan district deputy governor Toun Mory echoed remarks made on Tuesday by Kampong Thom deputy governor Ouch Sam On, suggesting that villagers were mounting their efforts only because they were under the sway of organisers. But Toun Mory went a step further, suggesting that protesters were being paid for their efforts.
“There are some people giving money to my people to do this. If they had no supporters behind them, they would not do this,” he said.
Toun Mory also took the vill-agers to task for their perceived vigilantism, saying they should be reporting suspected illegal logging activity to the authorities, not attempting to stop it themselves.
He said police would not allow villagers to set foot inside CRCK’s grounds because it had a legal concess-ion from the government.
CRCK Rubber Development Co, owned by Nguyen Duy Linh of Vietnam, received its 6,155-hectare rubber concession in Kampong Thom on May 5 last year.
Villagers hoping to confront the firm’s owner directly would be disappointed, Toun Mory said.
“The company’s owner will not care about the activities of the villagers, and will not come out to meet them.”