Villagers at odds with Chinese plantation firms in Preah Vihear province yesterday morning held a ceremony to curse the companies for allegedly conspiring to evict them from their land since 2012.
The ethnic Kuoy community in Brame commune, Tbeng Meanchey district, lit candles and prayed for the company directors to be struck by lightning, bitten by cobras and eaten by tigers.
The villagers put a curse on “the people who destroyed our happiness through damaging our farms and forest and grabbing the land”, said village representative Nuon Mun, 63.
The dispute with Rui Feng and Lan Feng began in 2012 when the firms were granted two land concessions totalling nearly 18,000 hectares.
After coming close to exhausting the avenues of justice provided to them by the courts, villagers resorted to the ancient rituals on show yesterday, because “the companies are colluding with officials”.
“We have called for intervention from the prime minister and National Assembly. We also set up press conferences and protested more than 10 times,” Mun said. “But we did not yet get any solutions.”
After the ceremony yesterday, the villagers took direct action, blocking a company vehicle that was clearing the land where they once lived.
The community has drawn up a map of the land they claim, and is preparing to forward it to the Ministry of Interior to apply for a community land title.
Lor Chan, Preah Vihear provincial coordinator of local rights group Adhoc, who was present at the ceremony, said the event was the result of a lack of redress for land grab victims.
“The authorities have ignored this case. It has not been solved and the ‘tiger skin’ policy has not been implemented well,” he said, referring to a government policy whereby villagers are allowed to remain on small plots of land inside land concessions.
Sou Serey, provincial deputy governor, claimed that despite numerous negotiations with the community, their lack of understanding of the law had led to repeated impasses.
“It’s a chronic case – the NGOs are behind them and coached them to protest and make demands beyond the law,” he claimed. “They wanted the company closed down. They think Brame belongs to them.”
Ing Thing Kong, a representative of the companies, said he had watched the ceremony and claimed the villagers had gotten drunk before blocking the firms’ excavator from clearing the land.
“We were clearing the land that three of the villagers claimed was their own. But they do not have land titles yet and they stopped us from doing our work,” he said. But following the villagers’ action, the company agreed to restart negotiations, he added, and a meeting was scheduled for today.