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Land dispute hits Thai court

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Evictees watch a community building burn next to a sugar plantation in Oddar Meanchey after authorities set it ablaze during a 2009 eviction. Villagers are mounting a class action suit against Thai sugar firm Mitr Phol, which was linked to the plantation. Photo supplied

Land dispute hits Thai court

A Thai civil court has accepted a class action suit filed by Cambodian land victims from Oddar Meanchey province against sugar producer Mitr Phol.

However, it ordered the disputing parties to mediate on Thursday before the court proceeds with legal procedures.

The Inclusive Development International (IDI) said on Wednesday that the Thai company, Mitr Phol’s subsidiaries, including Angkor Sugar Company, had forcibly displaced over 700 Cambodian farming families between 2008 and 2009.

About 9,430ha of farmland were affected in the takeover by the Thai company.

David Pred, IDI’s executive director, said international corporations – including Nestle, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Mars – were the biggest buyers of Mitr Phol’s products.

He said the reputation of these companies was on the line due to the land dispute.

“The Cambodian victims have been waiting for justice for a decade – if Mitr Phol doesn’t deliver it through these mediations, the brands should immediately cut their supply contracts with the company.

“Failing to do so after so many years would render their commitments to responsible sourcing utterly meaningless,” he said.

Ieng Vuthy of Equitable Cambodia, another non-governmental organisation helping in the lawsuit, said he had no information about the latest development in the case.

Huoy Chhuoy, one of the affected villagers from O’Bat Moan Village, said yesterday that he and other villagers have been waiting for many years for the company to compensate them.

He said Angkor Sugar Company took away the villagers’ land, thus crippling their livelihoods as they were unable to farm on their land and children dropped out of schools as parents could not support them.

“We are not happy and are demanding that the company pay us compensation. We filed a complaint for compensation because we are unable to farm on our land. They made us migrate from our villages and [eventually] we ended up with bank loans,” he said.

Chhuoy said in O’Bat Moan village, the government agreed on August 6 to return the land to 214 affected families in phases. But 92 families have yet to receive it despite being part of the first phase.

Oddar Meanchey provincial Land Management Department director Kim Keavin said yesterday that the authorities resolved the issue by returning the land to the affected families and even to those who did not have any.

“We had agreed that if the villagers don’t have land, the provincial authority would provide social land concessions of 2ha to each family."

“Actually, only 214 families filed complaints, but when we measured the land for them, other families said they were also affected and the figures increased to 412 families,” he said.

In the third paragraph, the Post wrongly stated that over 7,000 Cambodian farming families had been forcibly displaced between 2008 and 2009. In fact, it was just 700 Cambodian farming families.

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