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Kratie Villagers Protest Land Destruction

About 300 ethnic minority villagers wielding axes and knives gathered in protest at the Kratie province village Tuesday, angered over the start of land clearance by a private company.

No violence was reported from the demonstration, in Kbal Damrei commune, which is home to mostly Phnong and Mil minority villagers. The 300 protesters were representing about 700 familes.

"Since this weekend, two bulldozers and one tractor of the company have come and cleared our land, where we plant rice and other vegetables, and where our ancestors are buried," said villager Suon Ouk, who joined the demonstration. "They came and cleared without asking permission."

Provincial authorities say the Sun Puy Ty import-export company has plans to cultivate rubber trees on the land, but villagers say between 2,000 and 4,000 hectares of land has been seized by the company where they planned for conservation.

So far, about 10 hectares have been cleared.

The demonstration was quiet by Tuesday afternoon, Uch Sareth, chief of Kbal Damrei commune said. "We promised to resolve the problem for them in five days, and they have calmed down now."

The dispute over the land has been forwarded to provincial authorities, and Kratie Governor Uch Sareth said Tuesday he would send officials to negotiate with the villagers.

"The company has the right to exploit 1,500 hectares," he said. "But they must resolve everything before starting work."