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Protesters demonstrate against land rights NGO Equitable Cambodia in Phnom Penh
Protesters demonstrate against land rights NGO Equitable Cambodia in Phnom Penh on Friday. Locals have accused them of being hired by a sugar company that displaced families in Kampong Speu. Fresh News

Villagers suspect protesters were sent by sugar company

Following protests against land rights NGO Equitable Cambodia (EC) on Friday, several villagers in affected communities in Kampong Speu’s Oral district voiced concern yesterday that the protests might have been staged by the company that the communities stand in conflict with.

On Friday, villagers protested in front of EC against the organisation’s “incitement” of communities locked in a land dispute with tycoon Ly Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar, then reportedly submitted a petition to the Interior Ministry asking that the NGO be closed. The organisation represents communities nationwide that are in dispute with companies and the government.

But rice farmer Phnong Sokit, 58, from Trapaing Chor commune, said yesterday that the villagers who lost land in Oral district weren’t the ones protesting on Friday. “I think this group of people was hired by the companies,” he said. “They may have just given them the bus fee, food costs and some money. Equitable Cambodia is doing a good job, they teach us to understand our rights, not to use violence and to get proper compensation.”

Khon Khorn, 61, said she also believed the protests were staged. “The NGO just helps us to understand our rights, and they told us not to demand more than what we actually deserve,” she said. “We will protest if the NGO closes, because the NGO doesn’t do any harm.”

Chan Sokhoeun, a 49-year-old farmer, echoed the assessment, saying that he knew some of those who attended the protest. “They were former . . . victims. I think now some of them were offered jobs by the company,” he said, adding that he suspected the protest was meant to discredit EC after the company failed to properly compensate all the victims. “It’s not a proper protest, because it does not reflect reality.”

But one of Friday’s protest leaders, Chey Beurn, refuted the allegations.

“No one hired me,” he said. “I came because we saw the NGO was acting unfairly . . . We went there with our own budget for transportation.”

Andy Seng, director of Phnom Penh Sugar, which is in dispute with communities in Oral district, said he had only heard of the protests and petition through the media. “Phnom Penh sugar are committed to develop the community and we are bringing villagers with new road access, clean water supply, electricity, school, medical, irrigation, and employment opportunities,” he said in an email.

“We do not support the activities that [go] beyond our community development programme. Please do not link our company with the protest.”

EC and the Ministry of Land Management could not be reached yesterday.

Additional reporting by Leonie Kijewski

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