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Villagers Stop Bulldozers in Land Protest

Hundreds of people in northeast Cambodia stopped bulldozers from plowing sectors of farmland Wednesday, forcing a mediation between the parties.

The nearly 300 protesters, from four villages in Kratie province’s Snuol district, pushed past armed security guards of a private developer to stand in front of five bulldozers as they worked to clear land Wednesday morning, said Chan Saveth, a monitor for the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee and an investigator for the rights group Adhoc.

The guards cocked their rifles, but did not fire shots before the crowd pushed past them, he said. After the bulldozers were stopped, representatives of the villagers and company, CIV Development, met for around two hours, he said.

Villagers, who belong to the Steang minority group, say around 500 hectares of farmland is being destroyed by CIV’s plans.

CIV owner Heang Fu Khay told VOA Khmer Wednesday his company had rights to the land, but he was seeking a way to address the concerns of residents.

“For my development project for planting rubber, the government provided a concession of 1,000 hectares in 2007,” he said. “The company just started clearing the land in February 2009, and then the villagers protested against the company for clearing their land.”

CIV had offered to provide villagers 330 hectares of the concession to villagers, but the villagers still protested, he said. He now planned to offer 150 more hectares to the people to end the conflict.

Sum Chhoun, deputy district governor of Snuol, said Wednesday the conflict was difficult to solve. The government had studied many hectares of land for concession development, but in the meantime more and more villagers had settled on some land.

“If the company agrees to provide the old farmland and the farmland now, the problem will be resolved,” he said.