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'Hundreds' blocked from Pursat protest

'Hundreds' blocked from Pursat protest

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Villagers protest against Pheapimex company outside Pursat provincial hall yesterday.

Pursat province
Local authorities prevented hundreds of people from two provinces from driving to Pursat’s Krakor district to call on officials to clearly mark the boundary of part of a huge Pheapimex land concession, villagers said, leaving about 90 representatives to voice their complaints.

In March, the government issued a directive cutting out 6,713 hectares of land from the concession to be set aside for communal forest for use by local residents and the Phnom Kuk pagoda in Krakor.

Village representatives said they had planned to gather more than 1,000 residents from the area to urge the government to mark off the land, but authorities blocked truckloads of people from making the trip, which for some was about 40 kilometres.

Sorn Sab, a 59-year-old resident from Chhoeu Tom commune in Karkor district, said he was stopped by police three times before finally arriving at Kakor district hall.

“They said that the trucks cannot take us because the trucks have a problem – but actually their purpose was to forbid us from continuing to Kakor district [hall],” he said, adding that his group walked until their feet swelled up.

Eam Vanthan, deputy Kakor district police chief, said he did not order officials to prevent residents from driving to the district hall.

A village representative from Kbal Trach commune, also in Kakor, said the intention of the event was not to protest but rather hear a clear explanation from authorities as to what land belonged to local residents and what was the company’s.

“[The ruling] has only the paper of the government directive,” said Kuch Veng.

Noting the onset of the rainy season, he said villagers were being prevented from farming during an important time.

During negotiations with representatives yesterday, Kakor district governor Tem Sarin said authorities were preparing a joint commission to study the area and discuss it with the company.

“We need more time to measure the land,” he said, adding that villagers should contact the commission about stopping the company from clearing land if it affects their rice fields.

Pheapimex, which is owned by Cambodian People’s Party senator Lao Meng Khin’s wife, Choeung Sopheap, was granted a 315,028-hectare concession in Pursat and Kampong Chhnang provinces in 2000.

The 2001 Land Law, which limited all concessions to 10,000 hectares, states that existing concessions exceeding the limit “shall be reduced”, though developers may obtain exemptions if the reduction would compromise a project in progress.

Yi Sok San, deputy head of investigations for the rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that the government was responsible for implementing its own directive. Ti Kim Tok, deputy Pursat provincial governor and also a representative for Pheapimex, could not be reached for comment.

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