Local authorities have stepped in to halt construction around a disputed land concession in Ratanakkiri province in an attempt to discover whether the company has the right to clear forest that residents claim they depend on to survive. In what appears to be a rare showing of support for the protracted battles of locals versus developers, officials stopped development of the site and met with complainants from the ethnic Jarai community in O’Yadav district’s Lumchor commune, who accused Vietnam-based Chea Chanrith Development of clearing over 30 hectares of protected forest. “We want the authority to measure our land anew in order to know that clearing the land is affecting the community,” said Sev Youn, a Jarai representative. “We demand the company plant the trees again where the land was cleared.” Chea Chanrith Development company received permission from the Ministry of Agriculture in October to plant rubber trees on a 659-hectare concession in O’Yadav and Bokeo districts. However, the Jarai say they depend on the forest for their income, and that the portion of land cleared was a dense jungle full of firewood, shelter and sanctuary for wildlife.
But Dok Sar, O’Yadav district governor, said authorities and the company claim they aren’t intruding on protected forest, despite what the Jarai say. “Now, we’ve suspended the clearing and are reporting all requests from people to senior officials to ask if senior officials agree… or what to do next.” Company representative Chan Mab said they respected the authorities’ decision.