Phak Seangly and Ananth Baliga
The Phnom Penh Post, Wed, 18 January 2017
Poeun Cheun woke before sunrise on December 12 – a Monday – and after preparing a quick breakfast, she headed to her rice field a couple of kilometres away.
The 45-year-old widowed mother of four had been gone from the Tbeng Meanchey district farm for fewer than 24 hours, but now found herself staring at a plot of land she didn’t recognise, the vast majority cleared and ploughed by strangers in the middle of the night.
“They tried taking my land in 2015, but I stopped them. In early 2016, they tried again, but last month, they succeeded,” she told reporters earlier this week, her voice rising in anger.
Cheun is a Kuoy ethnic villager from Brame commune, one of hundreds of locals who have woken up to the same sight or actually witnessed what they claim are their traditional lands cleared by the Chinese-owned Rui Feng Sugar Co.
Rui Feng, along with four subsidiaries, was granted close to 40,000 hectares of land in 2010, and are sinking about $360 million into their operations billed as one of Southeast Asia’s largest sugar production facilities.
In 2012, the firm, acting with the blessing of local authorities, began clearing vast tracts of land across Tbeng Meanchey and neighbouring districts for their sugarcane plantation, drawing immediate, if seemingly futile, opposition from local villagers like Cheun. (more…)