Sugar plantation victims release demands

Source: Khmer Times



Some of the families from Koh Kong protesting about losing the land they say is theirs. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Representatives of 175 families in Koh Kong province’s Sre Ambel and Botum Sakor districts have released their final demands to end their 10-year land dispute with Koh Kong Sugar Industry (KSI) and Koh Kong Plantation.

The families are asking for two hectares of land to be given to them as a group, compensation of $5,000 to each family and the repair of a local road from the companies, which they claim took their land in 2006.

The stance was revealed after a meeting between the family representatives and Tep Thon, an undersecretary of state at the Land Management Ministry and head of the Working Group for Land Dispute Resolution.

Phay Nherng, one of the representatives for the families, said Mr. Thon listened to their requests and told them he would take the offer to the companies to get their response.

“If they [the companies] cannot give us what we want, we will not accept even the land and we are still going to ask the government for help,” she said.

“If they didn’t violate our rights and grab our land in the past, we would be able to use our land for farming and other activities.

“We would not have to live in poverty like we do today.”

Mr. Thon said he will write a report and submit it to the ministry’s leaders for review before taking it to the companies. If there is a consensus, the ministry will ask the government to provide a social land concession to create the two-hectare space the families asked for.

“Through the solution patterns, citizens can only get one and a half hectares of land. But they asked for two hectares and we agreed to take their request to our superiors,” he said.

“For the $5,000 per family, I have asked that they should not require this because they are on state land which the government provided as concessions to a company for investment. However, we will try to address the impact and reach a consensus.”

The meeting was held after Pal Chandara, a government adviser and chairman of the Council of Ministers, sent a letter on Monday to Land Management Minister Chea Sophara, asking him to solve the land dispute.

Mr. Chandara received a petition for intervention from the families late last year.

The group, made up of almost 115 people, has traveled to the capital several times in the past year to submit petitions for help with their land dispute. They handed petitions to the National Assembly, Land Management Ministry and other institutions on December 20.

The land dispute has been ongoing since 2006, according to Ms. Nherng, when the companies took 782.16 hectares of land in their commune, saying it had been given to them as an economic land concession.

She said the company continues to antagonize them by having them arrested, shooting and killing their cattle, putting up fences to block roads and preventing them from harvesting crops on their land.

“I beg the company to stop arresting, extorting and threatening us because our land has been lost and only our lives remain. We cannot accept this kind of development. We want everyone’s participation in development,” she added.

For two years, the government has said it was working on a solution to the problem and Mr. Thon went to the area in August last year to address the situation after the group was blocked by police from delivering petitions to government ministries in Phnom Penh.

He said the problem would be solved soon after he arrived back in Phnom Penh, but almost five months later, village residents say nothing has changed.

Ms. Nherng said the group plans to pray at a pagoda or in front of the Royal Palace in the hope that authorities will find a solution for them.


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