About 100 villagers who lost land to a sugarcane plantation, which was until recently financed by ANZ Royal Bank, traveled to Phnom Penh to protest in front of the bank’s headquarters Thursday, but failed to convince the bank to help them.
Several hundred families in Kompong Speu province accuse a pair of plantations owned by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat and his wife, Kim Heang, of stealing their farmland, often holding their livestock for ransom and driving them into debt. ANZ Royal was financing the senator’s Phnom Penh Sugar company but had its loan to the firm paid back in full by July.
The families say the bank still bears responsibility to help right the company’s wrongs, however, and a dozen of them came to Phnom Penh last week to hand in a petition bearing more than 300 thumbprints from affected villagers. Having received no reply to the petition, the villagers rallied their neighbors and came back to Phnom Penh Thursday to protest in front of the bank’s head office.
After meeting with ANZ officials behind closed doors for more than an hour, villager Chheng Sopheap said the bank refused to budge on its stance that it was no longer bound to help them.
“We want ANZ to be responsible for compensation because the bank provided a loan to Ly Yong Phat’s company and it earned interest from the company,” Mr. Sopheap said afterward. “But the bank told us it is not responsible for compensation because it is no longer involved with the company.”
Mr. Sopheap said he told the official, who refused to give his name, that the villagers would be back again with more people.
“I told the ANZ representative that we will hold a mass demonstration against the bank because he refused to be responsible,” he said.
ANZ Royal CEO Grant Knuckey declined to comment on the meeting or the issue, or to even confirm or deny whether he had met with Mr. Sopheap.
Stephen Ries, spokesman for ANZ Royal’s Australian parent company, ANZ, also declined to comment on the details of Thursday’s meeting but reiterated that the bank would do nothing more to help the families.
“ANZ is no longer a financier of [Phnom Penh Sugar] and it is no longer appropriate to have any discussions on the company’s business,” he said by email. “Given this is an issue for [Phnom Penh Sugar] to manage with the local communities, ANZ is not considering any compensation measures.”
Last week, Mr. Ries said the bank had been taking measures to help the families but that those efforts effectively came to an end once Phnom Penh Sugar paid off its loan.
Phnom Penh Sugar says it has compensated the families, provided them with new land and offered them good jobs on the plantation. But the families say the compensation has been paltry, the land poor and parched, and the jobs no substitute for the farmland they have lost.
Hin Rath, who joined Thursday’s protest, said her life has only gotten harder since losing her 2 1/2 hectares to one of the Ly family’s plantations.
Had her family not lost their land four years ago, she said, they could have kept saving as they did before and now been able to afford to send its three youngest children, aged 5 to 7, to school.
“They don’t go to school because we don’t have money to buy them bicycles, and the school is far away,” she said, standing outside ANZ Royal’s head office Thursday. “We work one day and we eat one day.”
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