Some 500 Koh Kong province villagers, who have been locked in a 12-year land dispute with a sugar company owned by tycoon Ly Yong Phat, protested in front of the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction on Wednesday, demanding the ministry help return their land.
Heng Sokun, one of the protesters, told The Post on Wednesday that she had come to the capital to see what Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction Chea Sophara had done regarding previous petitions they submitted.
She said the conflict began in 2006 when the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, owned by prominent tycoon Yong Phat, evicted the villagers from their land, destroyed their homes and prohibited them from farming on their land.
“We have occupied the area since 2002. Some have even lived there since 1995. In 2006, the Koh Kong Sugar Company cleared and destroyed many of the agricultural crops on the farms."
“I would like the ministry to return the land back to us and offer compensation for past damages,” Sokun said.
During the protest, negotiations were held between 12 village representatives and ministry officials.
The protesters hail from three districts in Koh Kong – Botum Sakor, Sre Ambel and Thma Bang.
While more than 500 villagers came to Phnom Penh on Wednesday, the conflict involves some 1,247 families. The dispute concerns more than 3,000ha of land.
Tith Kun, 46, one of the villagers, said that after the discussions the villagers agreed to return home, but said if there was no swift resolution they would return and protest.
Ministry spokesman Seng Lout told The Post an agreement was reached as a result of negotiations with the villagers’ representatives, in which they agreed to return to Koh Kong and cooperate with local authorities to verify their identities and check their backgrounds.
“The mechanism to solve [this issue] is in place. We need to work from the bottom by working directly with local people to understand the whole situation,” Lout said.
Koh Kong provincial governor Phouthong Mithona was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.