The land dispute between Sre Ambel villagers and Cambodian People's Party senator
Ly Yong Phat is unresolved, and the villagers - whose appeal to Prime Minister Hun
Sen has gone unanswered - fear their farms are doomed.
Representatives of 549 Sre Ambel families being forced off their land by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat walked for two days to Phnom Penh, where they camped across from the National Assembly and appealed to Prime Minister Hun Sen to cancel the government's concession of 20,000 hectares to Yong Phat companies. But Hun Sen did not respond and after 10 days they returned to Koh Kong.
On August 2, 2006, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries signed a 90-year
lease of 9,700 hectares in Sre Ambel to the Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company for planting
sugar cane, and 9,400 ha in Botum Sakor district to the Koh Kong Plantation Company.
Both companies belong to Yong Phat.
Much of the land - villagers say about 5,000 hectares - was occupied by people engaged
in shifting slash-and-burn agriculture.
An Haiya, a villager in Chi Khor Leu commune, said the dispute between Chhouk, Trapang
Kandorl and Chi Khor villagers and Yong Phat's Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company began
on May 19, 2006 - before the leases were signed - when the company bulldozed people's
land and prevented them from entering their farms.
"We think the company came not to develop the land for the people but to destroy
the villagers' property," Haiya said on March 13. "The company brought
poverty to the people. Only Prime Minister Hun Sen could help our difficulties."
Chiev Ien, 63, a Chhouk villager, said that in late 2006 and early 2007, Yong Phat's
company security guards killed villagers' cows and buffalo when they entered land
that the company laid claim to and would not allow villagers to take the animals
back unless they paid money.
"The farming season is coming," Ien said. "If they do not allow us
to farm we will die. It is my land; I have lived there all my life."
More than 120 villagers from the three villages in Chi Khor Leu commune, in the Sre
Ambel district of Koh Kong province, walked from their homes to Phnom Penh and camped
outside the National Assembly for a week, then trudged back home after receiving
no response from parliamentarians or Hun Sen.
They sent letters pleading their case against Yong Phat's company to the Senate,
National Assembly, Hun Sen's cabinet, the Ministry of Interior and the Koh Kong provincial
court. The letters asked the government to cancel its contract leasing the land to
the company and permit the people to continue farming the land.
"If the government continues to ignore this problem and not solve it, the government
is walking on its way to protect the interests of rich people and destroy poor people's
property," said Pa Ngoun Tieng, deputy president of the Cambodian Center for
Hun Sen recently has several times publicly told his government officials that the
rich and powerful must stop misappropriating poor people's land and state land and
has warned that those who continue to violate his order will be expelled from their
On March 12, Son Chhay, a Sam Raisy Party parliamentarian for Phnom Penh, wrote a
letter to Hun Sen inviting him to the National Assembly to discuss the seizure of
poor people's land by the rich and powerful.
Seng Sokhim, a lawyer at the Community Legal Education Center, said he had filed
complaints to Koh Kong provincial court on behalf of the villagers on February 6,
asking the court to cancel the contract leasing the land to Yong Phat's company and
to punish the company security guards who killed animals. And on March 20 the lawyers
sought an injunction to order the company to cease all work until the court had ruled
on the villagers' complaint.
Heng San, a representative of the Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company, said the company
had already solved the problem with the villagers. So far the company had compensated
more than 100 families and was preparing a plot of land to provide people affected.
"It is a misunderstanding between villagers and our company," San told
the Post on March 20. "But now we have solved it."
San said the company will transform the land from a forest into a town and provide
jobs to local people to develop the area.
"We do not intend to treat the villagers badly," he said.
Bin Sam Ol, deputy governor of Koh Kong, was less positive. He said the provincial
authority had tried its best to solve the problems and had met with Yong Phat twice
to end the dispute, but they still could not reach an agreement.
"I will meet him [Yong Phat] again after the commune election," Sam Ol
said. "We tried to keep people interested and I hope the villagers will understand
Am Sam Ath, senior monitor at the human rights NGO Licadho, said Yong Phat's company
wanted to relocate the villagers, but the villagers wanted to stay where they were.
"The firm did not provide a proper solution to people, so the conflict will
never end," Sam Ath said, "He [Yong Phat] acknowledged the damage to the
villagers but has just ignored [the problem]."
"Where there is development, the people are reduced to tears," said Kek
Galabru, president of Licadho. "If they shoot them, people die immediately,
but if they seize their land they take a longer time dying."