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September 08, 2011

Guinea: tension between locals and palm oil, rubber company over land

Reports say tension is brewing between peasants from Saoro in the prefecture of Yomou in the forest region of Guinea and the Guinean Palm Oil and Rubber Company (Soguipah ), following the destruction of the farmers’ rice fields.

According to witnesses, Soguipah went into the area in early July with heavy machinery to open roads to the contested land, destroying villagers’ rice fields, coffee and rubber plantations. On July 28, police officials were dispatched by regional authorities to issue a notice of expropriation to the villagers. Clashes broke out and several farmers and community leaders were arrested.

“Since 1987, the state has been trying to rob us of our land to give it to Soguipah. And since we have no where to go we have been fighting this for three decades,” said Bangaly Conde, a spokesman for the villagers. “The government must realise that we will not give away our land, which we inherited from our ancestors.”

Fearing fresh violence, many fled the village and sought refuge in the church. Several were injured in the clashes, the witnesses said. More than 500 people including women, children and the elderly are said to have been displaced following the action by the company, which the locals see as land grabbing.

A correspondent says 115 of them have found refuge at the cathedral in Nzerékoré, the main city in that region of Guinea. Seven people reportedly beaten by security forces are in hospital in Nzérékoré receiving treatment for various injuries.

Lawyers Without Borders and the Equal Rights for All say they are disappointed with the government over the alleged attacks by gendarmes and army troops against the Saoro villagers.

The land conflict started in 2003 following a presidential decree allocating 2,000 hectares of land in Saoro village to the Company.

Guinea’s land law states that an expropriation decree must be implemented within the next three following years when a decree is made.

But according to Foromou Frederic Loua, president of Equal Rights for All in Guinea, this is not the case.

“This decree was made in 2003 and we are 2011… so as it is today, this decree is null and void. With the complicity of the local authorities, the population is being harshly treated.”

For the past two months, the application of this decree has set Guinea’s forestry authorities against the farmers of Saoro who, according to human rights defenders, have gone through violence in the hands of security agents.

According to the NGOs, several farmers have already fled to cities of Yomou and Nzérékoré or in the forest to escape the gendarmes and army troops, after their farms were destroyed by bulldozers.

AFP, West Africa Democracy Radio

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