Villagers in ‘Vanishing Forests’ are Losing Hope
July 3, 2010, 2:11 am
Filed under: Land Grabbing by the Rich & Powerful

Villagers in ‘Vanishing Forests’ are Losing Hope

by Moeun Chhean Nariddh

 

Once upon a time during the French colonial rule more than 100 years ago, it is said that two outlawed families were on the run after being hunted down by the French for a crime the husbands had committed in Kampot town.

 They ended up at a remote mountain on the edge of Kampot province, where elephants, tigers and other wild animals were still roaming around in the dense forests. As time went by, more people settled in the area and paved the way for the creation of a village near the foot of the mountain.

 More than a century later, the village became a refuge inhabited by a new group of outlaws –Khmer Rouge fighters – until they were integrated into the society in 1997.

 Though farming life after integration was hard, the villagers said they had enough food to eat and were not worried about their future.

 However, things started to change four years ago when the government granted an Economic Land Concession to a company to develop the area – now known as Preay Peay, or Vanishing Forests, village in Trapaing Klaing commune, Chouk district.

 As forests disappeared, so did tigers, elephants and other wild animals. Now the villagers say the farms are also disappearing to development.

 Under a wooden house, the villagers are discussing the impact of the development and how to fight for their land back .

 “Have they bulldozed your papaya field?” asks Soeun Srey Aun, 27, who has just arrived with a baby on her hip.

 “That’s what I am worried about,” replies Svay Chreb, 44. “Now, Uncle Khorn’s farm has all been bulldozed.”

 Pregnant and apparently malnourished, Svay Chreb is expecting a baby soon and is facing a grim future like her neighbors.

 They will either go hungry or have to migrate to another place to look for work, suggests Srey Aun.

 “But, we don’t know where to go,” Svay Chreb explains fearfully .

 “We only know how to farm and not how to do business like people at the market,” Srey Aun responds.

 “Then, we will surely die,” Svay Chreb concludes, sighing deeply.

 What makes their fight more difficult is that their solidarity has been broken. Like what has happened elsewhere, the villagers believe that the authorities have used a common strategy to “subjugate one person to intimidate others”  in dealing with land disputes.

 When land disputes broke out with World Tristar Entertainment (Cambodia) Co., Ltd. in 2006, villagers protested. Their five representatives summoned by the court were told to give their thumbprints and promise to stop protesting or face arrest.

 The five men surrendered and did what the court ordered. 

 After the former activists became inactive, the rest of the villagers chose new representatives. But, the new representatives don’t have much hope either.

 “Now I only have 20 to 30 percent of hope left, and this hope is running out,” laments 30-year-old Seth Channa, the new, most active representative.

 She says the villagers seem to have lost their confidence “because of threats and outsiders demoralizing their spirits.”

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