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Day in court for villagers

Day in court for villagers

More than 200 families in Koh Kong province seeking urgent intervention into a dispute over a controversial land concession granted to a company partially owned by ruling party senator Ly Yong Phat have been summoned to a court mediation hearing with company representatives next month.

Seven representatives of three villages in Koh Kong’s Sre Ambel district were summoned yesterday to a hearing at the provincial court scheduled for June 9 to air their grievances over the controversial and approximately 10,000-hectare concession granted to Koh Kong Sugar Industry in 2006.

Community representative Seng Kao said villagers in Chi Khor Leu commune’s Chi Kor, Trapaing and Kandaul villages had lost 1,769 hectares of farmland in 2006 because of the concession that they now desperately need ahead of the upcoming planting season.

“We don’t have land to plant rice because the company took our land, so the court has to help us with this case and give the land back to the villagers,” Seng Kao said.

Ly Yong Phat could not be reached for comment yesterday. According to a report produced by the rights group Bridges Across Borders Cambodia in September, he co-owns the concession in question in a joint venture with Thai company Khon Kaen Sugar and a Taiwanese company called Vewong.

The concession adjoins another approximately 10,000 hectare concession registered to Ly Yong Phat’s Koh Kong Plantation Company, which Bridges Across Borders said is in reality simply an extension of the same plantation, contravening Cambodia’s land law.

Under that law, no single individual can control an interest in a land concession greater than 10,000 hectares.

Ly Yong Phat has also been accused of circumventing this provision of the Cambodian Land Law in relation to separate but adjoining concessions registered to him and his wife in Kampong Speu province that together amount to more than 10,000 hectares.

Last week, international attention came to Ly Yong Phat’s sugar plantations when visiting European Parliamentarian Cecilia Wikström blasted the government for its complicity in rights abuses associated with the concessions, labelling the senator’s wares “blood sugar”.

Wikström floated the abolition of preferential trade benefits afforded to Cambodian sugar exports under the EU’s Everything But Arms initiative because she said the Cambodian government had violated human rights provisions of the programme.

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