Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Villagers issue new calls to solve old land dispute

Villagers issue new calls to solve old land dispute

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
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

Villagers issue new calls to solve old land dispute

Villagers from Oddar Meanchey used a news conference yesterday to appeal for government action to return land at the centre of a years-old dispute with sugar companies.

The conflict erupted in 2008, when villagers were forcibly evicted from their land to allow Angkor Sugar, Tonle Sugar Cane, and Cane & Valley Sugar to start operations on economic land concessions in Samroang and Chongkal districts. The evictions led to migrations across the Thai border that still continue to this day, villagers say.

“We migrate to Thailand because we lost our land and don’t have any income anymore,” said Houy Mai, one of several representatives of the more than 250 families evicted to make way for the sugar companies, only to see the land given to the state in 2015.

“The authorities promised us that they will settle the issue as fast as they can,” she said. Villagers have filed complaints with ministries, including the Ministry of Land Management, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Justice and the cabinet of Prime Minister Hun Sen. So far they have had only non-committal answers from authorities.

In mid-2015, Thailand’s Mitr Phol, Asia’s biggest sugar concern, which was behind the project, pulled out of the deal following allegations of human rights violations and surrendered the land to the state. It is now administered by the Ministry of Agriculture but villagers say they are now landless and without compensation.

“So far we have received no compensation,” community representative Sman Te told reporters, adding that locals would accept an offer in place of their original land if it was sufficient.

The problem, he said, was that they never had received official land titles.

Another displaced villager Ang Choeun said he had been jailed for 18 months and accused of deforestation and “encroaching on the forest” when he refused to leave land he considered his. He added that now he didn’t dare go back for fear officials “accuse me of trying to instigate people and . . . put me in jail again”.

He also explained that with the upcoming elections, pressure was increasing on NGOs who might offer support to the displaced villagers.

Adding that he used to be a soldier, Choeun said, “When there is a problem with Thailand in Preah Vihear, [the government] sends me to the battlefield. When we have a problem, why do they not send anyone to solve the problem?”

MOST VIEWED

  • Ministry issues warning over coronavirus outbreak

    The Ministry of Health on Wednesday asked the public to be on “high alert” as a new virus wreaks havoc across Asia. However, no cases have been reported in the Kingdom thus far. The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has raised the alarm for its similarity to

  • First case of coronavirus reported in the Kingdom

    Cambodia reported its first case of the deadly 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) on Monday, Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng announced. He said medical specialists detected the virus in a Chinese tourist in Sihanoukville. The minister said Jia Jianhua, 60, travelled from Wuhan city, where the outbreak

  • PM urges precaution amid virus outbreak

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday called on all Cambodians to bump up precautions to avoid contracting the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that has already killed more than 50 people in China. The prime minister told the public to remain calm but alert about the possibility of

  • Gov’t slams NGO over 2019 corruption report

    The government on Thursday slammed a report that described the Kingdom as highly corrupt. Government spokesperson Phay Siphan dismissed the latest Transparency International (TI) report as “just an advertisement of NGOs to promote their own interests”. Released on Thursday, the report puts Cambodia near the

  • Gov’t answers garment buyers’ complaint

    Some of the biggest buyers in the Kingdom’s garment sector have urged Prime Minister Hun Sen to address issues faced by unions and workers – a request a senior official said was out of touch with the situation on the ground. The letter addressed to

  • NBC’s digital payments to go live in next few months

    The National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) will launch a Blockchain-based, peer-to-peer payment and money transfer platform in the next few months, its director-general Chea Serey told The Post on Monday. Dubbed ‘Project Bakong’, the scheme already has the support of 11 banks, with many more expected