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Kampong Speu locals protest in long-running dispute

Several hundred villagers protested outside the Kampong Speu Provincial Hall yesterday, demanding the return of thousands lost to economic land concessions (ELCs) in a years-old land dispute with a Chinese company and a prominent tycoon.

Awaiting action from authorities for over four years, nearly 250 residents – some of them from an ethnic Suoy community – of Oral and Phnom Srouch districts demanded a solution to their grievances with Chinese-owned HLH company and Kampong Speu Sugar Company, which is owned by ruling party Senator and tycoon Ly Yong Phat’s wife.

Community representative Oeurn Sovan, 58, said his “community lost 800 hectares of farmland to . . . Ly Yong Phat’s company, which cleared it for a sugar plantation in 2011”.

“We have protested and filed complaints to the authorities, National Assembly and the cabinet, but got no solution,” Sovan said.

Villagers claim to have owned the lands since 1999, some with recognition by local authorities and land certificates from Hun Sen’s student volunteer land titling program.

A Suoy community representative, May Men, 37, claimed over 3,000 hectares were taken from his community.

“My community lost spirit land and forest, ritual celebration land and land for raising animals . . . and another 600 hectares of farmland,” he said.

Villagers say they depend on the land, and those left landless become labourers to support their families.

After the protest, authorities met with eight representatives. Chea Dom, an assistant to the provincial governor, promised a solution from the governor after the Water Festival in November, or else the people were welcome to “attack my head”, he said.

Dom said the courts are responsible for those with student-issued land titles and that a committee is being established to address the issue.

Chang Y Muy, an HLH company representative, claimed that the company has no outstanding obligations.

“We solved all of the problems. We offered the compensation to the people who agreed to take the deal; we gave back the land to the people who disagreed. We haven’t forced them,” she said.

Phat Bun Hour, deputy general director of Kampong Speu Sugar, claimed he “did not know” about the issue and declined to comment.

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