RIGHTS groups and villagers from Kampong Speu province’s Thpong district have warned that violence could erupt again if action is not taken to resolve an ongoing dispute between local residents and a sugar company in Omlaing commune.
On Saturday, about 50 additional soldiers, most of whom are from Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Battalion 313, arrived at a disputed area in the commune to provide security for employees of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, who on Sunday continued to clear land despite protests by about 600 residents. Roughly 100 soldiers were already stationed there.
On Saturday “soldiers came in strongly to defend the equipment of the company”, said Mathieu Pellerin, a consultant for local rights group Licadho.
“We are extremely worried about the potential for violence. When you bring the military into the equation, there is just that much more of a chance for violence,” he added.
WE ARE EXTREMELY WORRIED ABOUT THE POTENTIAL FOR VIOLENCE.”
Villager San Tho said Sunday that residents of Omlaing commune had tried to prevent company employees from clearing their land but failed because of the overwhelming presence of the soldiers.
“The employees did not listen to us because they have police and soldiers standing next to the excavators to ensure they can clear the land,” he said.
“We did not want to allow them to clear our land because in some places village land was cleared by the company, and then the authorities did not include that area in their official measurements,” he said, referring to a mutually agreed-upon system established to help set boundaries between
village and company land.
Eleven villages in Omlaing – which are home to more than 2,000 families – have allegedly been affected by the 9,000-hectare concession granted to the company, which is owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat. On March 18, villagers torched the company’s makeshift office, leading to the arrest of two representatives who were later released.
Hab Dam, chief of Omlaing commune, confirmed on Sunday that more soldiers had been employed to protect company property. He added that authorities had already measured the land of about 100 families.
Em Sophal, deputy police chief of Thpong district, said the extra soldiers were from outside the district. “The company brought those soldiers in from outside, but I do not know where they are from,” he said.
Chan Soveth, a senior investigator for the rights group Adhoc, condemned the increased military presence. “When they threaten to take over villagers’ land, it is anarchy,” he said.