More than 100 villagers in eastern Cambodia’s Tbong Khmum province on Monday blocked Chinese earthmovers digging a canal and destroying crops on disputed land, temporarily halting the work, local sources said.
Hamenivent Investment, a Chinese company that claims ownership of the land, had already cleared over 20 hectares of cassava and cashew farmland worked by residents of Dambe district’s Trapaing Pring commune, a resident of the commune’s Bos Snor village told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“This has interfered with villagers’ farming, and that’s why they have come to stop this company from clearing their crops,” the resident named Maut Mon said, adding that Hamenivent has also encroached on flooded forest land used by the commune as a shelter for spawning fish.
“”We want to the Chinese side to sign an agreement that they won’t come in here to continue clearing, as we are concerned for the loss of the lake and the fish in the shelter,” Maut Mon said.
Also speaking to RFA, Hoeun Sineath—a resident of neighboring Sre Praing village—said that the commune’s forest was registered for protection as a conservation area in 2002 by Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
“The area is a flooded forest. It is a shelter for fish to lay eggs, and many wild animals used to live there, but there are many fewer there now,” he said, adding that China’s Hamenivent company, which has now cleared his farm and the farms of 21 other families in the village, has no legal right to the land.
'Don't go in there'
Representatives of Hamenivent Investment were unavailable for comment on Monday, but Dambe district governor Sok Sarith told RFA that the Chinese company now owns the disputed land, and that local villagers have been farming on company property.
“This land is not a communal forest or a fish shelter. It is the legal property of the Chinese company, and that company has the full right to work on that land within the limits of the law,” he said.
“Our authorities have always told people in the past, ‘Don’t go in there.’ But some people still continued to farm on that land,” he said.
However, villagers believe that local authorities had illegally conspired to sell a large part of the forest to Hamenivent and had arranged for the Chinese company to be issued with a land title proving ownership, village sources said.
Speaking to RFA, Leng Senghan—provincial coordinator for the Cambodian rights group Adhoc—said that Hamenivent’s destruction of crops and digging a canal to block famers’ access to their fields was in any case against the law.
“If we consider the view of the law, this was totally illegal, because these were actions that destroyed people’s property. And when you dig a canal to cut off a road, this destroys the property of the state,” he said.