About 500 villagers from two provinces gathered in front of the Kampong Chhnang Municipal Hall yesterday to ask provincial authorities to prevent the Pheapimex Company bulldozing land before compensation has been finalised.
More than 600 villagers from Pursat’s Krakor distict and Kampong Chhnang’s Boribor and Teuk Phos districts had been expected to attend, but more than 100 had been blocked by district police who refused to let them travel to the protest site, villagers said.
In 2000, Pheapimex, owned by Cambod-ian People’s Party senator Lao Meng Khin’s wife, Choeung Sopheap, was granted a 315,000-hectare economic land concession in Pursat and Kampong Chhnang provinces.
In March, the government issued a directive that 6,700 hectares of land from the concession be set aside as communal forest for use by local residents, but villagers in Kampong Chnnang said yesterday construction had already begun on the land before a resolution has been finalised.
Ouch Leng, head of the land programme at local rights group Adhoc, said the dispute had erupted in 2004, when Pheapimex began construction on land for aksaya trees, cassava and agro-industrial plantations.
“The government values the company; it does not care about the villagers,” Ouch Leng said, adding that the development affected five communes and 19 villagers had been charged with criminal acts since 2004.
Kampong Chhnang provincial governor Touch Marin said villagers had asked authorities to provide more information about compensation because they were concerned the concession would affect farmland.
“We tried to do [the project] to not affect their plantation land, pagodas and houses, but the villagers are still worried,” Touch Marin said.
Deputy provincial governor Ty Kim To, a representative for Pheapimex in Pursat, could not be reached for comment.