Published on : Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Before we eat, we went and caught few fishes, however now it’s nothing like that as all the natural resources are not here, said Sen Chantha, 68 year old, living in a coastal village within Ream National Park in southwest Cambodia. The mangrove forests, wetlands and rocky coasts that supported copious flora and fauna of the park have attracted opportunistic developers as well. For mass tourism resorts, the government of Cambodia has granted development rights, leading to deforestation and the drainage of ecologically vital mangroves.
“On the way out, you will see many big trucks clearing land all over the place… They’ve started clearing about four kilometres away, and they’ll probably come here,” says Chantha, who is residing in Prek Trabek village from 1990s. As forest cover has vanished, Chantha has become a campaigner, eager to protect his community against a Chinese developer supported by the elites of Cambodia.
The family of Chantha is one of more than 100 in his village part of this several years old land conflict with the Yeejia Tourism Development, a Chinese company, whose concession surrounds their homes. The company has allowed them to remain in the area, but harshly limited their living and working space.
Choeun Trop, 55, says Yeejia has taken part of her land and stopped her from collecting rattan from the forest.
In the last two to three years, company officials have kept an eye on her community tightly, at one point requiring members to carry IDs and not allowing outside visitors, she says.
Trop’s son is now in jail after protesting against Yeejia during which some protestors took apart a guardhouse at the entrance to the company’s concession.
“We’re poor. It’s been very difficult, and we couldn’t ask anyone to help,” she says. She tried to enlist the support of two Cambodian human rights organizations, but both told her they could not intervene. “I cry and cry, and if I cry too much, I’m afraid I will faint again, and no one will take care of my son. My son cries because the situation inside the prison is terrible, and he has a very small space to sleep.”