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Villagers register in land dispute

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Members of Kampong Speu’s Oral district community talk to the media in 2016 after retracting their previous complaint about Phnom Penh Sugar’s land compensation payments. Heng Chivoan

Villagers register in land dispute

The Kampong Speu provincial authority said on Wednesday that its task force has completed registering thousands of families in Oral district who have been locked in a long-running land dispute with a sugar plantation owned by a well-connected tycoon.

Provincial governor Vy Samnang said the registration is meant to find out the origins of villagers in the area and comes a week after a third field visit by officials from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“We are identifying how many families are original landowners and outsiders coming through civil society organisations. We are working on it. There are families that came to settle down there through NGOs and then claimed the tycoon grabbed their land,” he said.

Samnang said each family was required to bring their legal documents such as identity cards and land titles to prove their original ownership.

“There are not many ethnic families. However, we discovered many families that came through civil society organizations and are distinguishing between them and the outsiders. We are verifying their documents and have asked them to submit their documents,” he said.

The dispute began in 2010 when more than 1,500 families were evicted from land they had cultivated since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979 to make way for a mega-sugarcane plantation by Phnom Penh Sugar, a company owned by prominent tycoon Ly Yong Phat.

Last week, OHCHR officials visited the community to monitor a resolution process initiated by the company.

OHCHR Representative Simon Walker said in an email on Tuesday that the rights organization had been monitoring the resolution process between the communities and the company.

“During OHCHR’s visit to Kampong Speu last week, we received information about parallel resolution initiatives organised by the company. Affected communities indicated to OHCHR that they were confused by the parallel processes,” he said.

Samnang said the sugar company had not been engaged in the registration process, though it had dealt directly with the communities to work out a compromise.

“The company said it had sought a solution concerning compensation for some communities. Now it needs to verify the process,” he said.

Simon said OHCHR would continue to monitor the land dispute.

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