RIGHTS groups met with Kampong Speu provincial governor Kang Heang on Thursday in a bid to resolve a land dispute between farmers and the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat.
Meanwhile, Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) lawmakers called on the government to review the terms of the 9,000-hectare land concession awarded to the company. Rights groups say this concession could be illegal if, as suspected, Ly Yong Phat is also the beneficiary of an adjacent 10,000-hectare concession.
The Kingdom’s 2001 Land Law states that land concessions in excess of 10,000 hectares are illegal.
Chan Soveth, a senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, said members of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee met Thursday with the provincial governor and court officials to seek a solution for the hundreds of villagers who fear they will be pushed off their farmland by the plantation.
“We urge the provincial governor to solve the villagers’ land dispute in a just way and lift charges against their village representatives,” he said.
Community leaders Khem Vuthy and You Tho were arrested on March 24 and held for six days at the provincial prison for their alleged role in a March 18 protest in which a building belonging to Phnom Penh Sugar Company was burned down.
Roth Thavy, a monitor for Adhoc, said the sugar company had been clearing land with excavators and cutting down trees since mid-February.
SRP lawmaker Nuth Rumduol said six opposition parliamentarians had written to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking him to “give the land back to the villagers and also to drop charges against the village representatives”, citing their long-standing residence on the land.
Kampong Speu Deputy Governor Pen Sambou said the government had shown its commitment to the villagers’ grievances by releasing their represenatives on bail.
“Now all provincial officers are cooperating with the company to find a resolution, and we are continuing to discuss the villagers’ demands regarding their land,” he said.