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Protest over giant land concession

ABOUT 40 families from Ansar Chambak commune in Pursat province’s Krakor district protested yesterday against the clearing of forest and farmlands for acacia and cassava plantations, villagers said.

One protester, Ny Norn, said that villagers may soon resort to drastic measures to halt the clearing, part of a 315,028-hectare economic land concession held by Pheapimex Group.

“If we still don’t get a resolution, we’ll lead our cattle onto National Road 5 and take our beds and sit in the middle of the road for half a month. Will the authority still evade finding a deal with us?” he said.

He added that 12 residents had received court summons in the last month in connection with complaints from the company, which has accused them of inciting protest and destroying property after protesters barred the company from clearing the community’s forest and farmland.

The Pheapimex land concession, which spans Kampong Chhnang and Pursat provinces, was granted to the company in January 2000.

The firm, owned by Choeung Sopheap, the wife of Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin, has come under fire because its concession far exceeds the legal limit of 10,000 hectares.

Krakor district governor Im Sarith said it was important to note that Pheapimex has received a concession licence from the government.

“Our authority does not have capacity to solve the problem, besides coordinating with the residents,” he said yesterday.

Ty Kimtong, Pheapimex’s provincial representative as well as Pursat’s deputy governor, declined to comment on the issue yesterday.

Nget Theavy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said national-level authorities should resolve the issue if the protests do not end, adding that if the plantations did not affect people’s land they would not resort to such actions.

“To the residents here the farmland is their lives. If they lose their land, they have nothing to depend on so they have to rally,” she said.

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