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
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