Around 300 people representing hundreds of families in Koh Kong province, who were evicted from their homes to make way for a sugar company owned by businessman and CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat, blocked the road that leads to the Ministry of Land Management on Thursday to protest the ministry’s inaction in resolving the decade-long conflict.
The villagers were requesting a similar deal as was reached in March, when 375 families were given compensation packages, including cash and land allocations, after ending their longstanding land disputes with Yong Phat’s Koh Kong Sugar and Koh Kong Plantation.
Tith Pheng, a representative of 300 families living in Sre Ambil district’s Dong Paeng commune, said the group decided to travel to the Ministry of Land Management to check if there was a response to a petition they delivered last week.
There was no reply, so they decided to block the road for around an hour to force officials to address them.
During the blockade, the ministry spoke with 10 representatives, and told them that the ministry was unable to resolve the dispute for them.
“The Ministry of Land Management told us the ministry has no authority to resolve this case, and it has created a committee made up of Koh Kong provincial officials to deal with us directly,” Pheng said.
“So they told us to return home to work out a solution with provincial authorities. But we’re losing faith. If the ministry can’t work this out, we have no reason to believe a provincial committee can.”
Tep Thun, Land Management Ministry deputy secretary of state, told those at the meeting that he had created a joint committee, led by the provincial governor, to resolve this issue by the end of the month.
Suon Vannat, 50, an affected villager, said he travelled to the capital in the hope of being offered a similar deal to the one the other group of families reached in March.
“The ministry permitted 10 of us to discuss the issue with them, but the sides found no common ground. We raised the possibility of getting the compensation as a group led by Phav Nherng,” Vannat said, referring to the representative of a group of villagers also in a land dispute with Yong Phat.
“We asked for a compensation package of 3 hectares and $2,500, but the ministry refused to help and told us to return home.”