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Committee to ‘review’ sugar compensation

An informal committee comprising the ministers of commerce, agriculture and environment, the European Union ambassador, provincial governors and sugar refining companies will review discrepancies between the number of families affected by sugar concessions and those compensated, the Ministry of Commerce said yesterday.

A third party may also be engaged to evaluate procedures used to compensate families, the ministry added, in paragraphs that later appeared to have been removed from a statement posted on the ministry’s Facebook page summarising a February 10 meeting.

Families who were evicted from their homes to make way for industrial sugar cane plantations in Koh Kong, Kampong Speu and Oddar Meanchey provinces have long claimed to have been given either inadequate or no compensation from firms and authorities.

The unofficial committee, which first met on January 29, according to commerce ministry spokesman Ken Ratha, will meet on March 5 “to review the discrepancies in the number of affected families identified by the local authorities with the number of families, which will be provided by the EU Ambassador”, the original statement said.

“The meeting also agreed that a third party may be needed to assist in evaluating the procedures used to compensate the affected families. The term of reference of the third party will be discussed during the next meeting,” it added.

The EU delegation did not comment yesterday on whether it was investigating the true number of families that should have been compensated.

“The EU has been calling on various occasions the Royal Government of Cambodia to closely monitor and address the grievances of the communities allegedly affected by the development of the sugar agro-industry,” Ambassador Jean-François Cautain said in an email. “We attended the meeting and reiterated our concern that the Government finds appropriate solutions without delay . . . We hope to see practical solutions arising from this initiative as soon as possible.”

Eang Vuthy, executive director of Equitable Cambodia, said any external audit of compensation procedures would have to have a “clear mandate”.

“There are [two] issues: people who have not received anything and people who have received little but were forced to accept [compensation] that did not include the loss of sources of income . . . all this needs to be considered,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY HOR KIMSAY

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