Kampong Speu province
AROUND 300 villagers embroiled in a land dispute with a sugar company owned by a prominent senator blocked National Road 52 in Kampong Speu province yesterday in an effort to prevent the company’s employees from tearing down villagers’ homes.
“We blocked the road because we wanted the company’s staff to come out and negotiate with villagers,” said Suon Sokunthear, a 38-year-old villager from Omlaing commune, in Thpong district.
He said that employees of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat, had recently demolished the homes of three families in O’Thmar Chruok village.
Company employees and soldiers from Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Battalion 313, which is paid to provide security for the senator’s company, attempted to raze additional homes yesterday morning, prompting the villagers to block National Road 52 with farm machinery and bed frames, he added.
Mon Sarin, 26, said that soldiers from Battalion 313 accused her on Sunday of living on company land and ordered her to dismantle her home. The soldiers returned yesterday with an excavator and attempted to demolish her house, she said.
“I have been living on my land since 2000, but the company just arrived in this area recently,” she said. “Because the company’s staff wanted to tear down my home, my villagers decided to block the road.”
About 50 local police, military police, and soldiers armed with guns and electric batons were on site to provide security for the company’s staff during the villagers’ protest, she said.
A total of 11 villages in Omlaing commune – home to more than 2,000 families – have been affected by a 9,000-hectare concession granted to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, which lies adjacent to a 10,000-hectare concession registered in the name of Ly Yong Phat’s wife, Kim Heang.
Tuon Song, Thpong district governor, denied allegations yesterday that Ly Yong Phat’s company had destroyed villagers’ homes, and said that the company had only cleared land “sold” to them.
“The company did not buy the land where the villagers are living, they have only bought empty land, and they only clear land that they have purchased,” he said.
He said that the company was in possession of proper land titles.
Chhean Kimsruon, a representative for the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, told villagers during yesterday’s protest that the company “had done no wrong”.
“I bought the land legally,” and villagers had threatened to burn down the company’s office yesterday, she said.
Frustrated by the senator’s apparent land-grab, Omlaing villagers torched a makeshift office owned by the company in March.
Ouch Leng, a land programme officer for the rights group Adhoc, said that villagers had been forced to block the road because “they had no other choice”.
“To find a resolution, the villagers had to block the road because they wanted to negotiate with the company’s staff,” he said, and it was the fourth time Omlaing villagers had blocked the road. “The company has not respected their promises to the villagers.”