A group of villagers chased off 10 bulldozers belonging to the Ruifeng Sugar Company on Thursday on the fifth day of a standoff between an ethnic Kuy community and the Chinese firm trying to clear the land in Preah Vihear province.
Rice farmer Hut Maly, 35, said the machine operators who came to burn and clear the land in Tbeng Meanchey district turned and fled as she and other demonstrators approached.
The standoff began on the first day of the month, when more than 100 locals began guarding two different spots that Ruifeng had been clearing since last month, said Poek Sophorn of the land rights NGO Ponlok Khmer.
“They seized three tractors earlier,” Mr. Sophorn said. “They are keeping them at the site.”
The standoff is the latest development in a three-year land saga that observers say has almost completely eroded villagers’ trust in the provincial government.
Villagers claim the land, which they rely upon for farming and forest resin, is theirs, individually or collectively. They suspect provincial authorities quietly approved development by Ruifeng, which, along with sister companies, owns 40,000 hectares in two provinces.
“The authorities try to negotiate with the people. They say that they’ll stop the company from burning the land, and they advise them to quietly wait for a solution. They always say this,” Mr. Sophorn said. “They are trying to extend the time the company has to burn the land.”
Ms. Maly said local authorities came to the site on Wednesday and promised to resolve the dispute. Then, on Thursday, the 10 additional tractors arrived.
Approached at their Phnom Penh office on Thursday, Ruifeng officials declined to comment, saying they could not speak to a reporter without permission from their boss.
Pang Yat, district governor of Tbeng Meanchey, said authorities were “in the process of solving this problem,” but declined to elaborate.
Ms. Maly said nearly all of her fields had already been burned and planted with sugarcane, and she had nothing to eat. Many in the community, after three years, were too tired and hungry to demonstrate, she said.
“But if they don’t struggle on, then they will have nothing.”
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