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Villagers wield Hun Sen letter in land dispute

Kampong Speu province
MORE than 500 Kampong Speu province villagers embroiled in a land dispute with a local sugar company demonstrated in Thpong district yesterday, accusing the company of failing to uphold promises contained in a letter from Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The villagers gathered near the Omlaing commune office of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company at around 8am, intending to read staff members a copy of the letter given to them by Sam Rainsy Party activists.

The letter, signed by the premier on June 29, states that the firm’s plantation development could not take place on 1,050 hectares of land occupied by local people and “forests important to the environment”.

Eeang Chiva, a village representative, said the letter showed the company had acted illegally in clearing land claimed by local communities.

“The government issued a letter to clarify that what the company did was illegal and different from what the government decided,” he said.

A total of 11 villages in Omlaing commune – home to more than 2,000 families – have been affected by the Phnom Penh Sugar concession.

Ouch Leng, land programme officer for local rights group Adhoc, criticised the government for not forwarding the letter to the affected families.

“The company has already cleared all the land the government said it is not allowed to,” he said.

Company representative Chheang Kimsruon said she received a letter yesterday, but claimed it referred to HLH Agriculture rather than her
employer.

HLH Agriculture, a company jointly controlled by the prime minister’s sister Hun Seng Ny and Singaporean Ong Bee Huat, is involved in a separate dispute over 450 hectares of land in Omlaing commune.

Earlier this year, the company accused three local villagers of attempting to kill several employees during a November 2008 protest.

A copy of the Hun Sen’s letter seen by the Post, however, explicitly mentions Phnom Penh Sugar and Ly Yong Phat and makes no mention of HLH.

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