Tensions between Chinese firm, ethnic villagers mount

Source: Phnom Penh Post

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A policeman tries to calm representatives of the Chinese-owned company Rui Feng in Preah Vihear on Friday. Photo supplied

Ethnic Kuoy villagers in Preah Vihear’s Chey Sen district filed a complaint against Chinese sugar company Rui Feng on Tuesday after a long-simmering land dispute almost erupted into violence last week.

On Friday, more than 100 Kuoy villagers camped out in Samrong village to guard farmland against Rui Feng’s continued clearance of the disputed area, prompting a confrontation with the company.

Hav Sohieng, one of the villagers, said yesterday that she and about 15 of her fellow villagers were confronted by about 20 company staffers during the incident.

“They said that we had no right to stop the machinery. They wanted to hit us with weapons, but we escaped. We were shocked,” she said.

“We did not retaliate … perhaps there might have been death on each side,” Sohieng added.

A clip of the incident was posted to Facebook on Tuesday. The video shows at least three men, presumably employees of the company, charging towards the villagers with large wooden clubs until officials successfully intervene.

In addition, a mini-tractor belonging to one of the villagers was pushed into a pond by staffers, according to villager Pean Sophat.

Sophat said that authorities promised to negotiate a resolution, but no such agreement has come.

The company was granted almost 9,000 hectares as an economic land concession in 2011, and since then has been embroiled in a slew of confrontations and conflicts with the local Kuoy community.

The complaint filed this week accused the company of violence and demands compensation for the destroyed mini-tractor.

Kor Yang, Rui Feng administration director, said that there were no crops at the scene to protect as the land was cleared by the company in 2016 in preparation for sugarcane planting.

“The company did not clear or grab the land from the people,” Yang said.

Yang said the villagers have also acted violently towards company staff members, but there are simply no recordings of it.

Poek Sophon, chief of advocacy for local NGO Ponlok Khmer, said the attempted violence gave the company “a bad image”, and called on authorities to take legal action against the individuals responsible.

Sok Hay, provincial deputy governor, declined to comment on the issue, referring questions to Ung Vuthy, another deputy governor, who also declined to comment.

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