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Hundreds of families block land-clearing

Hundreds of families block land-clearing

Kampong Speu Province
AROUND 256 families from Kampong Speu province’s Trapaing Chor commune held a sit-down protest in Phlout Leu village yesterday to prevent a sugar firm from clearing their farmland, villagers said.

Villager Lot Sovan, who claims to have occupied the land since 2000, said the company began clearing the land at 3:30pm Wednesday. Villagers asked the company to stop, insisting that the dispute over the concession had not been resolved. The villagers then prevented further clearing by protesting yesterday, he said.

Kampong Speu Sugar Company, which is registered in the name of Kim Heang, the wife of Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat, received a 9,053-hectare land concession in 2009 to plant sugarcane.

In the same month, Phnom Penh Sugar Company, owned by Ly Yong Phat himself, was granted more than 9,000 hectares in the adjacent Omlaing commune, home to more than 2,000 families. This, the villagers say, is in violation of Article 59 of the Land Law, which limits the size of concessions to 10,000 hectares.

Companies will continue to evict us in the future. We prefer to die on our own land.

Villager Koy Hak, 43, said 49 families from his village, which covers 89 hectares of disputed land, came to join the protest yesterday morning to prevent Kampong Speu Sugar Company from clearing the any more ground.
“We did not allow them to begin clearing the land because they did not talk to us; they just want to take over our land and have us move on,” he said.

He said that the company wanted the villagers to relocate to an area about 7 kilometres from their homes, a solution residents see as untenable.

“How can we get ownership of that land? That land belongs to [the military]. Companies will continue to evict us in the future. We prefer to die on our own land,” he said.

However, Chem Sarim, the governor in Oral district, downplayed the dispute, saying that there were no issues with the sugar companies.

Ouch Leng, land programme officer for rights group Adhoc, said the two companies were both guilty of the same transgressions. Both, he said, were taking over villagers’ land without providing fair compensation.

“They have shown complete indifference to the government policy on land concessions,” he said.

“The government tries to make ways for companies to get a lot of land, but it causes villagers to lose their farmland, their main resource for support their livelihood.”

Kampong Speu Deputy Governor Pen Sambou declined to comment yesterday. Chhean Kimsuon, a representative for the two companies, could not be reached.

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