A giant Vietnamese agribusiness company is destroying indigenous land in Cambodia’s Ratanakkiri province, said a joint press release from Equitable Cambodia and Inclusive Development International that was published on Monday.
The human rights groups wrote that many indigenous people in Cambodia’s Ratanakkiri province have been waiting for years for the Vietnamese rubber company, Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL), to finally return their sacred land, as had been promised by a 2015 mediation agreement.
Instead, the organisations claim, HAGL carried out sweeping land clearances in March that had been earmarked for return to the communities through a government-led demarcation process.
The majority of this land was cleared while the indigenous communities took shelter to protect against the spread of Covid-19.
Inclusive Development International executive director David Pred said: “HAGL’s destruction of these sacred places is heartbreaking, and the fact that this company used the cover of a global pandemic to unlawfully clear more indigenous land is particularly egregious.”
The press release said that in February, before the destruction of their land, representatives of Muoy, Inn, Mas, and Kak villages, along with eight other communities, joined a mediation meeting with HAGL under a new dispute resolution process.
The company had requested the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) to convene the meeting.
Sev Suen, a community representative from Kak village, in Andong Meas district’s Talav commune, told The Post on Monday that while the communities waited for the official ratification of the land’s return by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, which had been delayed due to Covid-19, the company bulldozed two spirit mountains, wetlands, traditional hunting areas and burial grounds.
He said the clearance destroyed old-growth forest and caused irreparable harm to land that is of priceless spiritual value to the communities.
“A pagoda is a place of religious worship for the Khmer people, but my people believe in the spirits that inhabit the forests and mountains.
“Now that company has cleared our spirit mountain and we have no place to pray and the spirits will be very angry with our villagers for allowing this to happen,” Suen said.
He said the area that HGAL cleared was among those designated for return to the residents of Muoy, Inn, Mas and Kak villages.
Equitable Cambodia executive director Eang Vuthy told The Post that HAGL knew the land was designated for return to those four communities.
He said the damage that the company had inflicted on the four communities adds insult to injury, and it called into question whether HGAL is truly committed to resolving this long-standing dispute.
“HAGL must cease clearances immediately, return the land and provide restitution for all the damage that it has caused to the people of Ratanakkiri,” he said.
Vuthy said last March, the Ratanakkiri provincial governor officially requested that the ministry return 742ha of indigenous land that had been improperly included in HAGL’s agricultural land concessions.
Ministry spokesman Srey Vuthy told The Post that the request had been received, but he referenced a letter from the CAO on the HAGL case which declares there are still some disagreements over the size of the area.
“The size of the proposed land is not agreed because the province asked to cut out 742ha of concession land – 572ha that was agreed and 170ha that was not agreed.
He said the ministry has asked the community, company, provincial team, CAO and the local authority to review the size of the land that has been cut out of the Economic Land Concessions.
He said a working group from the ministry will visit the actual site for further inspection.
Neither the Ratanakkiri provincial authority nor HAGL representatives could be reached for comment on Monday.