Villagers from Kompong Speu province protested for a second day in front of the Phnom Penh headquarters of ANZ Royal Bank on Wednesday, smearing the building’s exterior with red-painted handprints after the lender once again refused to help them resolve their land dispute with a sugar plantation it helped finance.
Several hundred Kompong Speu families accuse a pair of plantations owned by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat and his wife of stealing their farmland and driving them into debt. ANZ Royal, the local subsidiary of Australia’s ANZ Bank, extended a loan to one of the senator’s plantations that was paid off in full in July. The families say the loan made the plantation’s operations possible and want the bank, which earned interest off the deal, to help compensate them.
About 100 of the affected villagers traveled to Phnom Penh on Tuesday to protest at the bank’s head office and returned for another round Wednesday morning.
After ignoring the protesters the day before, the bank Wednesday sent out an employee at about 10 a.m. with a letter saying only what the villagers had been told by the bank before—that ANZ Royal had no obligation to them because the plantation was no longer a customer.
“Phnom Penh Sugar has not been a customer of ANZ since July, when it decided to repay its loan,” says the letter, which is signed by Ben Walker, ANZ’s head of sustainable development.
“Ultimately, the core of your dispute relates to land and resettlement from land,” the letter says. “These are issues that can only be resolved by Phnom Penh Sugar and the Cambodian government.”
The families say they have been attempting to settle their dispute with the plantation and government for years, to no avail. The plantation has offered them money and replacement land, but the families say the compensation is inadequate and the new land unsuitable for farming.
Disappointed by the contents of Wednesday’s letter, the protesters shouted angrily at the bank employees inside, at which point the staff closed the office and pulled down metal shutters to cover its ground-floor doors and windows.
The protesters then produced a can of red paint, dipped their hands inside and smeared the bank’s walls and the metal shutters with red handprints. They also dipped fake “ghost” U.S. notes into the paint and threw them on the ground in front of the bank’s entrance.
“We threw the ghost dollars in front of the bank and put our handprints on the wall to show the public that the bank is making money from our blood,” said Nguon Dy, a protester.
The villagers left the bank at noon, vowing to return to continue demonstrating later in the month if the lender continued to refuse them help.
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