Following a years-long campaign by land rights activists and NGOs, Phnom Penh Sugar has finally offered compensation to families displaced by its Kampong Speu sugar plantation, although not everyone is impressed.
Company spokesman Sim Sitha said yesterday that 364 families had on Monday been offered compensation packages of between $500 and $10,000 on the basis of a fact-finding investigation led by Phnom Penh Sugar, whose plantation is part of a 9,000-hectare economic land concession granted to CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat in 2010.
Community leader Som Sen said yesterday that he had accepted the company’s offer after four years of waiting.
“Me and 156 other families accepted the compensation. I got $500. It’s justice for me because I only had 1 hectare of land,” Sen said, adding that 208 families who lost larger tracts of land in the 2010 evictions had refused the company’s offers as too little. “The company didn’t force us to accept the compensation. If we don’t, they will negotiate again.”
Suon Bunsak, secretary-general of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Coalition, has been following the dispute for several years now and was present at Monday’s meeting.
“I don’t know how the company got the people there, but they were bringing smiles, they were coming happy,” Bunsak said, adding he was aware that the company had a history of treating aggrieved evictees “impolitely”.
The company’s produce was labelled “blood sugar” by rights groups in response to its conduct in land disputes, which triggered the resignation of the prime minister’s sister, Hun Sinath, in protest – but Bunsak said that it appeared to have turned a corner.
Company spokesman Sitha said the company had been working with community leaders and NGOs to reach a compromise since 2013.
However, Eang Vuthy, executive director of NGO Equitable Cambodia – which declined to take part in the compensation process – said the fact-finding process lacked transparency and was marred by intimidation and coercion, adding that he felt the compensation on offer was inadequate. “Two million riel [about $500]? That’s nothing compared to what they’ve suffered for years,” he said.
In December 2014 the EU announced it would fund independent external auditors to examine land disputes arising from Cambodian sugar plantations. That month, Phnom Penh Sugar director Seng Nhak told the Post that the company “fully supports an independent and objective assessment” by the auditors.
Vuthy yesterday questioned why the company had chosen not to wait for EU auditors to settle the dispute.
“This is a one-sided process, this is a company-led process,” he said. “If the company thinks that the EU process is important, then they need to work with the EU and the government to address this problem.”
In an email yesterday evening, Phnom Penh Sugar’s Nhak reaffirmed the company’s support for the EU-funded assessment process.
“At the same time we are also committed to the development of the area and as such we are continually talking to the villagers to try to include them in this process,” he said.