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In Koh Kong, a harvest denied

Villagers in Koh Kong’s Sre Ambel district squeeze through a barbed-wire fence they say is preventing them from reaching their crops. Licadho
Villagers in Koh Kong’s Sre Ambel district squeeze through a barbed-wire fence they say is preventing them from reaching their crops. Licadho

In Koh Kong, a harvest denied

Tonnes of fruit has been left to rot in Koh Kong’s Sre Ambel district due to a road block erected by two Thai sugar producers nearly two weeks ago that has prevented farmers from reaching their crops.

Thirty-two families in Chi Khor Leu commune’s Trapaing Kandaol village are demanding that Koh Kong Sugar Industry and Koh Kong Plantation – both previously owned by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat, now subsidiaries of Thai-owned Khon Kaen Sugar Industry – take down the road block.

Hour In, provincial monitor for rights group Licadho, who visited the site of the road block on Saturday, said yesterday that farmers have been prevented from tending to their crops for more than two years now.

“It is an ancient road, but the companies have blocked it and not allowed the people to fertilise their durian and rambutan farms since June 26,” In said, adding that villagers “can’t access their rambutan, so the fruit is rotten and destroyed”.

Sak Phon, who belongs to one of the 32 aggrieved families, said in a good season he can harvest 14 to 16 tonnes of fruit and sell it on for 4,500 riel (roughly $1.10) a kilogram. However this harvest season has been cut short by the road block, he said.

“About 10 tonnes of my rambutan fruit have not been harvested yet. Now they are ripe and fall [from the plant]. Besides that, many of the durian trees have died because we have not fertilised them,” Phon said, adding that he was not alone in losing produce and had not yet had a chance to plant during the rainy season.

The affected community has filed a letter with the commune authorities seeking intervention on their behalf.

Commune chief Chhay Vuth said that he met with the companies yesterday morning. He subsequently sent a letter to them asking that the road block be lifted and was told the companies would reply within a week.

But Peng An, an administrative assistant at the company, yesterday said he was unaware of any such letter.

“I am not sure of the reason for closing the road. I will meet with the Thai investor [and ask],” An said. Senior company representatives were unreachable for comment.

Licadho’s In said the companies had erected the road block in order to prevent grazing cattle from reaching their sugar cane crop.

The sugar plantations in question have previously been referred to by Equitable Cambodia’s Eang Vuthy as “one of [Cambodia’s] oldest land disputes”, having been granted as a 2,239-hectare economic land concession to Senator Yong Phat in 2006.

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