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Authorities break up land protest in capital

MORE than 100 villagers claiming to represent 2,000 families from Kratie province’s Snuol district were prevented from gathering in front of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh residence Monday, after travelling to the capital to protest the alleged destruction of their farmland by an agricultural company.

After their removal, the villagers assembled in the park in front of Wat Botum pagoda, from which they were also ejected by authorities.

Villagers said Monday that they had planted many crops on the land, including potatoes and jackfruit, but that the TTY Agricultural Plant Development Company destroyed their crops with the protection of local authorities.

“The district governor has ordered a machine to clear the land,” villager Chum Chantha said. “If anyone dares to protest, he is to be imprisoned. No one dares to protest there.”

Villager Kham Pho claimed she lived on her 3-hectare plot of land for eight years before it was destroyed by TTY. She added that when she protested to the district authorities, officials told her the land had been signed over to TTY by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“I cried against the clearing of my crops, [but] they said there is no need to protest, and that this was land that Samdech Hun Sen has signed away to the company,” Kham Pho said.

“I said that if Samdech has signed it, let me see a copy, but so far they have not allowed me to see it.”

Snuol district Governor Eav Saphum dismissed the protesters’ allegations, saying that the protesting villagers represented just 30 families, that they did not have crops on the land that was cleared, and that they were all immigrant workers who had illegally occupied the land. He said that the government has already recognised TTY’s right to develop the area.

“The company is acting legally. I told them that if they all want land, make a request – and they have not made it,” Eav Saphum said of the villagers.
“We just asked them to register so that we can resolve [the problem] for them ... but they have not done this and they still protest.”

When contacted Monday, TTY representative Heng Sarath also denied the villagers’ claims. “I want to emphasise that TTY Company’s investment has not affected any people’s crops,” he said.

He added that the government had granted the company a 9,780-hectare agricultural concession in Snuol district, which was being used for grazing.

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