Roughly 200 villagers gathered yesterday in Kampong Thom province’s Sandan district to protest against a rubber company that they fear will clear forested land they depend on for their livelihoods.
The villagers convened in front of the offices of CRCK Rubber Development Company despite attempts by district and military police to stop them. Chheang Vuthy, 37, a village representative from Sandan’s Meanrith commune, said an additional 60 villagers travelling to the protest on tractors had been headed off by local authorities.
Those who protested yesterday came from communities in Kampong Thom, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear provinces that border the roughly 200,000-hectare Prey Lang forest, one of Cambodia’s largest. Sandan District Governor Sim Vanna said CRCK had been granted a 6,044-hectare concession in his district last year to plant rubber.
“If they clear Prey Lang, that means they will break our rice pot, so we will die,” Chheang Vuthy said. “If they destroy the forest, what can we depend on?”
Sim Vanna said local authorities had attempted to prevent the villagers from gathering in front of the CRCK offices because they were afraid of violence breaking out. “Our authorities did not use violence on those
villagers – we just talked to them at our district office to find out what they want and how they will be affected,” he said. “I will report their requests to the provincial governor.”
CRCK representatives could not be reached for comment.
Last year, villagers from four provinces bordering the Prey Lang forest called for a halt to development in the area. Sem Sean, a village representative from Kampong Thom province, said at the time that 33 private companies were operating in the forest: 12 in Preah Vihear, 11 in Kratie, eight in Stung Treng and two in Kampong Thom.
Some of the largest include South Korean mining firm Kenertec, Rattanak Stone Cambodia Development Co Ltd and the Pheapimex Group, a firm controlled by the wife of ruling party Senator Lao Meng Khin.