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Villagers pitch tents to guard their farmland

Villagers pitch tents to guard their farmland

MORE than 1,000 people in Kampong Speu province’s Omlaing commune erected makeshift tents on their farmland on Tuesday in order to prevent a sugar company from “grabbing” their land and turning it into a sugarcane plantation, villagers said.

Residents started protesting at the Thpong district office on Saturday after employees of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat, visited their land under military escort.

Villager representative Prak Sina, 47, said Tuesday that company employees had continued to survey the land despite earlier promises to halt their activities.

“Together, we constructed blue tents in our rice fields to stay overnight and prevent the company staff” from coming, she said. “They always do it when there are no people in the rice fields, so the best way for us is to stay in the fields rather then staying at home.”

Prak Sina said the villagers were not against development project, but wanted clear information about its scope and how villagers would be compensated if it were to impinge on their farmland.

Omlaing commune chief Harb Dam said the Phnom Penh Sugar Company had been granted a 9,000-hectare agricultural concession, but that the project would affect only unused forest.

“Now we are evaluating villagers’ farmland, and are trying to avoid the affected villagers’ land,” she said.

Ly Yong Phat, who also owns sugar companies in Koh Kong and Oddar Meanchey provinces, said villagers should not be concerned about the project.

“We will not take over their land – we are developing on land that we got from the government. The reason that they are afraid of losing their land is that they don’t know clearly about our project,” he said.

However, Vong Yuon, 41, said villagers were still confused and merely wanted authorities to communicate with them.
“If we lose that land we will die,” he said.

“Don’t use Military Police to threaten us. Coming to tell us is better than threats.”

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