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Villagers block sugar firm

Hundreds of villagers in Kampong Speu province have staged a sit-in to prevent the clearance of land they say is being grabbed illegally by tycoon and ruling party senator Ly Yong Phat.

About 300 villagers from Omlaing commune, in Thpong district, began their protest on Friday, setting up a blockade in front of excavators from Ly Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar Company that they claim will bulldoze community homes and farmland.

The villagers are part of a group of more than 2,000 families that rights groups say will be displaced by Ly Yong Phat’s 8,343-hectare land concession.

“The villagers decided to stand in front of the bulldozers without regard for danger because the authorities have yet to intervene and halt the company’s activities,” village representative Phal Vannak said.

Police were on hand at the site yesterday along with company workers during the third day of the protest, which villagers said would continue until their land was no longer in danger.

“We will not let them clear the land because we haven’t sold it to anyone,” said Chhuon Chhun, another Omlaing resident. Company representatives have offered the villagers replacement plots of land, but these plots have been grabbed from other local residents,
he added.

Kampong Speu provincial governor Kang Heang said 90 percent of the villagers affected by the concession had already received compensation. Those staging the protest, he said, have been encouraged by human rights groups to grab the land illegally.

“We will continue to clear the land because they are living illegally on state land, and we will not compensate them,” Kang Heang said. “We will do everything in accordance with the applicable law.”

Thpong District Governor Tuon Song declined to comment yesterday, saying he was in a meeting related to the issue. Phnom Penh Sugar Company representatives could not be reached for comment.
Ly Yong Phat’s wife, Kim Heang, has been granted a 9,053-hectare land concession for her Kampong Speu Sugar Company that adjoins his Phnom Penh Sugar concession. This, villagers say, is in clear violation of the Kingdom’s 2001 Land Law, which limits the size of concessions to 10,000 hectares.

Omlaing villagers have been locked in the dispute with Phnom Penh Sugar since February, and more than a dozen have been summoned for questioning by the Kampong Speu provincial court in connection with the case.

In March, a group of villagers torched a makeshift building belonging to the company to protest the alleged encroachment on their land.

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