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Ministry miffed over land dispute presser

An aerial view of cleared land in Oddar Meanchey province, where many locals have been forced from their homes by sugar plantations. Photo supplied
An aerial view of cleared land in Oddar Meanchey province, where many locals have been forced from their homes by sugar plantations. Photo supplied

Ministry miffed over land dispute presser

The Ministry of Commerce has criticised three non-governmental organisations for holding a news conference to draw attention to a decade-old land dispute, saying it jeopardised “the reputation, social order, peace, solidarity and national unity of Cambodia”. At the same time, the ministry said it was committed to solving the issue.

The press conference last Tuesday, organised by ActionAid Cambodia, Equitable Cambodia (EC) and Heinrich Böll Stiftung Cambodia, gave a platform to communities from Oddar Meanchey demanding compensation or the return of land seized for an ultimately failed sugar project.

EC director Eang Vuthy hit back at the ministry yesterday: “If they don’t want to continue having this negative publicity, they have to address this issue.”

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People watch a community building burn next to a sugar plantation belonging to Thailand’s Mitr Phol Sugar Corporation in Oddar Meanchey after authorities set it ablaze during a 2009 eviction. Photo supplied

The conflict erupted in 2008, when villagers were forcibly evicted to make way for a sugar project led by Thai sugar giant Mitr Phol. The company pulled out in 2015 following allegations of human rights violations and surrendered the land to the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Ministry of Commerce statement said the fact that it had agreed to terms of reference with the European Union last June on setting up a group of experts on resolving land conflicts showed it was taking action. Hun Boramey, of ActionAid, said she was pleased the ministry confirmed the terms were finalised.

But Vuthy, of Equitable Cambodia, remained unconvinced. “The company has already left . . . so why not just give back part of the land to the villagers?”

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