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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Guns subdue farmers as senator clears land

Guns subdue farmers as senator clears land


Sre Ambel farmers, many of whom have been living on the land there since 1979, are protesting against the actions of the Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company. Its bulldozing of vast areas for sugarcane growing, as shown above, has isolated and encroached on small farmers' plots like the one below, leading to confrontation and violence.

A woman was shot in the foot when police and security guards fired guns to repel

Sre Ambel farmers resisting the destruction of their orchards, now inside 20,000

hectares of concessions the government has granted Cambodian People's Party (CPP)

Senator Ly Yong Phat.

According to letters obtained by the Post, on August 2 the Minister of Agriculture,

Forestry and Fisheries, Chan Sarun, signed a 90-year lease of 9,700 ha 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. The maximum legal concession is 10,000 ha.

However, much of the land within the concessions is already occupied by people who

have been farming it since as long ago as 1979. Human rights workers said Yong Phat's

companies had agreed to pay the farmers fair compensation, but they appeared to be

reneging: the companies were disputing farmers' titles, or else paying only token

compensation, and were bulldozing their way around the smallholders' crops and orchards.

This had led to confrontations, and on December 15 a man who had been active in protests

against the companies' actions was found axed to death.

Pich Suon, a villager in Chhouk village, said most of his fruit trees were damaged

by company tractors clearing the land and security guards prevented people from entering

their farms. He said the company had paid a little money for the damaged fruit trees

but no compensation for his land. In future, people would have no land to farm, he


"Everybody here is facing the same problem," Suon said, "We tried

to protest but we were fired at by the guards to disperse us."

Seng Sokhim, a lawyer at Community Legal Education Center (CLEC) who visited the

site, said more than 400 families in Chhouk, Trapaing Kandorl and Chi Khor villages

in Chi Khor Leu commune of Sre Ambel district had protested many times to the company

that bulldozing had affected their farms.

Sokhim said some people had occupied the land since 1979; others had been squatting

on the land since 1990. Their farms consisted of mango and cashew trees and watermelons.

"I think the company should suspend bulldozing the land and negotiate with people

about the impact," Sokhim said. "The government should study the impact

on the people before it grants land concessions like these."

Sokhim said that on December 15, An In, 35, who had been active in protesting Yong

Phat's occupation of the farms, was fatally axed three times on the back of his head.

His body was found 100 meters from his brother's home.

Sokhim said local police said In was axed to death in a revenge attack. NGOs continue

to investigate the case to see whether his death was related to the land dispute

or because of a personal dispute.

Am Sam Ath, a senior monitor with human rights group Licadho, said that on November

12, the president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Kem Sokha, Licadho's

Kek Galabru and CLEC's Yeng Virak met with provincial and district authorities, company

representative and villagers, and it was agreed that Yong Phat's company would not

bulldoze the people's land until it had reached agreement with each farmer.

But the company had continued to use tractors and bulldozers to clear around the

people's farms, damaging parts of them and preventing access, he said.

"The company did not respect the agreement," Sam Ath said. "So far

there is no solution at all between the people and the company."

Sam Ath said some people were threatened by the company's security guards and some

were forced to receive between 150,000 to 300,000 riel ($38 to $75) for their plot

of land.

Heng San, a representative of the Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company, said most of the

disputed land had been cleared illegally for slash-and-burn agriculture by villagers

who had no documents to validate their claims to possession. He said the company

will compensate those villagers who can produce documentary title if tractor-clearing

had affected their land.

"The land does not belong to our company; we have leased it from the government,"

San told the Post on December 25. "We will return the land to the state after

our contract expires. Our company aims to provide jobs for people; we don't want

to take advantage of them."

San said the company had cleared about 700 ha of land in Sre Ambel and had planted


He said local people had been excited to hear that the company was going to develop

the area and he accused outsiders of provoking people into protesting for their own


"Our company has invested $100 million on the projects," San said, "We

will set up a sugar factory in 2009 and thousands of people in the area will be employed."

San said most of the people in the villages are jobless. At the moment roughly 100

villagers are working for the company and get paid about 10,000 riel a day.

Suon Sitha, deputy governor of Sre Ambel and chief of the land measuring committee

in the district, said he acknowledged that some people had protested about the effect

on their land of the company's bulldozing.

Bin Sam Ol, deputy governor of Koh Kong, who is coordinating efforts to solve the

dispute, said he would drive to the site to inspect the situation. He said the government

had allowed Yong Phat's company to invest in the area for the benefit of local residents,

not to make trouble for them.

"Before protesting, people should have land titles or recognition letters from

local authorities," Sam Ol said, "The company should discuss with people

if they agree to sell their land."

He said just over 30 families in the villages had been affected by the land-bulldozing,

and more than 20 of them had already reached agreement with the company.



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