by Phak Seangly
Preah Vihear’s deputy governor has vowed not to let protesters near Prime Minister Hun Sen as he cuts the ribbon on a $360 million sugar mill in Tbeng Meanchey district today.
The mill – one of the largest in Asia – is owned by Chinese company Rui Feng (Cambodia) International, which has been involved in a series of land disputes with local villagers since it arrived in the country in 2012.
Together, Rui Feng and its four sister firms have land concessions covering 40,000 hectares in Preah Vihear, circumventing law that prohibits a single company from holding more than 10,000 hectares in concessions.
Representatives of more than 100 ethnic Kuoy villagers who gathered in Tbeng Meanchey’s Brame commune yesterday to celebrate International Peasants’ Day said they planned to attend today’s ceremony to ask Hun Sen to cancel the companies’ concessions.
“The companies are grabbing our land, natural resources and clearing and filling up our ponds and lakes which we used to depend on for a living,” said demonstrator Khum Rany.
Rany said her community collected more than 400 thumb-prints on a petition to drive the companies from the province. “If we are banned from meeting him, we will raise banners along the road,” she said.
Provincial Deputy Governor Sou Serey yesterday pledged not to let the protesters get close to the prime minister and said that NGOs have manipulated the villagers into action.
“The company has the right to invest and rent the land from the state. It was not involved in their community land,” he said.
Rui Feng employees declined to comment.