Villagers representing 72 Ratanakkiri families have been camped outside the Ministry of Agriculture since June 26 to protest the destruction of their ancestral lands by a South Korean-backed rubber plantation.
Roman Taen, a 57-year-old member of the Tumpoun ethnic group, came to the capital with 14 others last week on behalf of families in Talao commune, Andong Meas district. Taen said that South Korea’s Oryung Construction Co., Ltd., which received a land concession from the government to plant a rubber plantation in Andong Meas district, had bulldozed his community’s ancestral forests and nut orchards.
“We are here seeking help from the government,” Taen said.
Taen said that neither the company nor local authorities had informed villagers about the land concession before clearing more than 10 hectares of cashew and other nut orchards.
“If the company continues to clear, then we will lose everything,” he said, noting that wildlife habitat and valuable timber in protected forests had also been cleared.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries signed a 70-year contract with Oryung in June 2006 for a rubber plantation on 6,866 hectares in Andong Meas district.
Oryung Deputy General Manager Kim Sang Soo said the company was in the process of lawfully clearing the site and denied encroaching on villagers’ land.
“We have not violated the people’s lawful rights to the land,” Soo told the Post. “The company will negotiate with villagers on the impacted land. We will compensate them if they are affected.”
Soo said that people in the area had reacted at the beginning of the project but stopped voicing concerns after local authorities and the company had explained to them about the project.
The company gave 100 tonnes of rice to the villagers in mid-June, he said.
Community Legal Education Center attorney Sourng Sophea, who represents the villagers, said the government had not studied the impact of the concession on local people.
“If the company does not follow the terms of the contract, it will harm the local people,” he said.
In a similar conflict, villagers from Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadao district also came to Phnom Penh on June 26 to seek redress in a long-running land dispute involving Keat Kolney, sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon, who villagers say unlawfully acquired 450 hectares belonging to 45 families in Pate commune in 2004.
“Lose land, lose lives,” said Taen, the Tumpoun man protesting outside the Ministry of Agriculture. “We are concerned over the loss of land for the younger generation.”