More than 100 ethnic Phnong families embroiled in a land dispute with Vietnamese firm Binh Phuoc Kratie Co in Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima district yesterday refused authorities’ requests to submit thumbprints as part of a suggested resolution to the issue, out of fear they would be signing away their lands.
“We will no longer be cheated,” Phnong community member Yan Mao said. “They asked us for thumbprints in order to reach a settlement, but they need our thumbprints to tell the company that we have agreed to give them land.”
Authorities called on the local commune chief to coerce residents to submit their thumbprints, but villagers have been steadfast in their rejection, resident Roy Sokha said yesterday.
“We are afraid that if we make the thumbprints, the company will win the case and we will lose and be jailed,” he said. “That is why we are saying no. The commune chief has given us from March 24th to the 30th. After, they will take further measures.”
But Sre Chhouk commune chief Yorng Bun yesterday denied the allegations, saying authorities had requested the registration as a way of counting how many people live in the area.
“We did not coerce them. First, we asked them to make thumbprints, but they refused. Then, we asked them to register, but they still didn’t,” he said. “If there is no solution, then I will not be responsible, because it is their fault.”
Residents voiced their distrust of government officials over the thumbprint scheme due to similar reports in which villagers were the victims of dishonest dealings, said Sok Ratha, the provincial coordinator of local rights group Adhoc.
“They have [in the past] brought people’s thumbprints, but reached no solution, apart from people losing their land,” he said. “That’s why people don’t have confidence.”
Binh Phuoc Kratie Rubber I was in November 2011 granted a 70-year concession contract covering 8,926 hectares in Keo Seima district for agro-industrial purposes. Meanwhile, the Phnong community has built more than 170 homes on 1,100 hectares of disputed territory.
Phan Si Binh, the owner of Binh Phuoc Kratie, could not be reached for comment.