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Officials no-show for land talks

OFFICIALS in Kampong Speu province’s Thpong district failed to show up on Wednesday for a meeting scheduled with villagers involved in a land dispute with the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, exacerbating suspicisions that they are primarily interested in arriving at a resolution that favours the company.

On Tuesday, villagers from Omlaing commune met with officials including Deputy Provincial Governor Pen Sambou and Thpong District Governor Tuon Song to discuss setting boundaries between their farmland and land granted to the company, which is owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat.

I am worried [the officials] tricked us to get our thumbprints.

Media personality Soy Sopheap, a commentator on Bayon TV, took charge of the talks and ordered villagers to provide details about the size and location of their farmland, and then asked them to thumbprint a document.
Officials said they would return to the village on Wednesday to take information from villagers who failed to attend the first meeting, but by 4pm no officials had shown up.

San Tho said he and his fellow villagers are now concerned that officials will change the text of the document to make it look as though they agreed to sign away their land to the company. “I am worried they tricked us to get our thumbprints,” he said.

Ouch Leng, land programme officer for the rights group Adhoc, said he suspected that Tueday’s meeting had been “only an excuse to get the villagers to open National Road 52”, which they had blocked in protest since Monday.

Pen Sambou, Tuon Song and and Omlaing commune chief Hab Dam all declined to comment on Wednesday, and Ly Yong Phat could not be reached.

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