Ethnic minority villagers in Ratanakiri dispute Heng Veasna rubber investment

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  • Thursday, March 1, 2012
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  • PHNOM PENH (Herald) - Some 100 members of the Tampoun ethnic minority in the remote northeastern province of Ratanakiri gathered outside the provincial hall earlier this week claiming that Heng Veasna Co had encroached upon 10 hectares of their land, Rasmei Kampuchea reported Thursday.

    On Tuesday afternoon, the newspaper said, villagers from Andoung Meas district's Malech commune traveled in a convoy of motorbikes and trucks to the provincial hall in Banlung, parking at the house of Chok Merl, director of the provincial Department of Women's Affairs. 

    The Andoung Meas district governor and a deputy provincial governor were seen meeting with the villagers. But the villagers told the newspaper that authorities told them to go back home, promising they would visit the site of the disputed land and resolve their problems on Friday.

    Rasmei Kampuchea said the villagers have since continued to visit the provincial office to gather witnesses.

    "Our only aim is to meet provincial officers to help settle the problem and seek justice," one of the Tampoun village representatives was quoted as saying, accusing Heng Veasna Co of bulldozing farmland and a spirit forest. "It never consulted or reached a settlement with villagers and consulted only with the village chief and the district governor."

    Since getting investment rights from the government, the village representative said, the company has been bulldozing land and erecting poles deep into the hundreds of hectares of village land.

    "We've repeatedly lodged complaints against the company at the district and provincial levels and with people's representatives via the village and commune offices to seek their intervention. But the authorities haven't done anything with the complaint so far," the representative said.

    Norng Darith, the governor of Andoung Meas district, told the newspaper that he had urged villagers to return home and wait until Friday, by which time provincial officers could visit the site in a bid to reach a settlement.

    According to various sources, Heng Veasna was granted a 70-year government land concession to grow rubber on 120,000 hectares of land. After excluding disputed land, the remaining concession is only 58,000 hectares.

    Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for human rights group Adhoc, told the newspaper that Andoung Meas villagers came to the provincial hall on Tuesday but were prevented from entering.

    "After that, they came to our office asking us to be observers. The villagers said that if there's no proper solution soon, they'll file a complaint to Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene," he reportedly said.


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