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NGOs say sugar deal may lead to evictions

LOCAL rights groups plan to meet with European Union officials this week to warn that an EU scheme aimed at fostering trade from developing countries might be fuelling evictions in the Kingdom.

David Pred, executive director of Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, said local groups would meet with EU officials Friday to outline concerns about the EU’s Everything But Arms scheme, which allows Least-Developed Countries to export duty-free goods to Europe.

Rights groups say the government has issued land concessions to private companies, including some that are using disputed land to make way for sugar plantations – with the sugar destined for EU nations. One major dispute has pitted 2,000 families in Kampong Speu’s Omlaing commune against Ly Yong Phat, a ruling party senator whose holdings include the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, the recipient of a 9,000-hectare concession.

“Villagers are losing their farms to land-grabbing, and this needs to be addressed,” said Mathieu Pellerin, a consultant for Licadho, one of the concerned groups. “Hopefully the EU ... will do the right thing.”

Rafael Dochao Moreno, the chargé d’affaires for the Delegation of the European Commission to Cambodia, said EU officials take the issue seriously. But ultimately, he said, problems are best resolved by the government, not EU “sanctions”.

“The people that pay the biggest price for the sanctions are not rich people but poor people,” Dochao Moreno said at a press conference after a seminar on human rights yesterday.

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