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Cambodia: Protest Supports Villagers Challenging Foreign Forest Concession

(Sept. 25, 2015) On September 22, 2015, a group of approximately 100 Cambodians from the Phnong ethnic group rallied to support five members of the group who were questioned in court and then released. The issues involved were claims of illegal logging and a land dispute in Kratie Province of eastern Cambodia. The provincial court had called the five individuals to answer questions about a dispute with a Vietnamese rubber company. (Chin Chetha & Men Sothy [in Khmer], Joshua Lipes [in English], Ethnic Villagers Protest Cambodian Court Questioning of Forest Activists, RADIO FREE ASIA (Sept. 22, 2015).)

The villagers argued that the company had destroyed forest areas that they had traditionally used. According to Set Seb, one of the protestors, since the Doty Saigon company began clearing the forest last year, her family can no longer harvest the fruits, vines, and resin on which they had relied from the forest. Those at the rally want their government to uphold their rights to the land; they traditionally used the forest sustainably, without cutting down trees. (Id.) The use of forest areas in Cambodia by foreign companies given concessions by the government has been controversial for several years. It was one of the issues motivating anti-government protestors in December 2013. (Thomas Fuller, Rally Draws a Diverse Group of Protesters in Cambodia, NEW YORK TIMES (Dec. 29, 2013).)

The area in question, 15,900 acres, had been granted as a concession to Doty Saigon by the Council of Ministers of Cambodia in March 2007. The area is adjacent to the 1,235 forest acres the Phnong claim. (Lipes, supra.)

Local rights group Adhoc provided legal defense to the five villagers; an official of the group, Suos Vannak, said there was no evidence to support claims that the villagers took part in illegal logging. Hum Ngor, one of the five questioned in court, asserted that the concession to the rubber company had negatively impacted his communities customs and culture and that the “the forest is our lives.” (Id.)