Families evicted by sugarcane plantations in Oddar Meanchey province say they will ask the government to be included in a compensation plan the Land Management Ministry unveiled on Wednesday that leaves them out.
An ad hoc committee headed by Land Management Minister Chea Sophara announced that families having lost land to a sugarcane plantation stretching four districts in the provinces of Koh Kong, Kompong Speu and Preah Vihear will, starting Monday, get to apply for compensation until October 3.
Rights groups were quick to point out that families in other districts in the provinces have also faced evictions at the hands of sugarcane plantations. Oddar Meanchey province was left off the list altogether.
On Wednesday, however, when asked why only four districts were selected, ministry spokesman Seng Lot said they were the only ones with evictions.
Mr. Lot’s claim flies in the face of indisputable evidence to the contrary, repeated in numerous reports by a series of rights groups.
In Oddar Meanchey alone, some 2,000 families lost land to a trio of sugarcane plantations the government leased out to Thai sugar giant Mitr Phol in 2008.
Though Mitr Phol pulled out a few years ago having done little with the land, the government has yet to give it back to the families despite repeated requests.
Huoy Mai watched the company burn her house down in 2009 while armed soldiers watched on and spent months in jail while pregnant for protesting her eviction in Oddar Meanchey’s Samraong city.
“The families were evicted. The company took my land to grow sugar. They burned my house. They arrested me and put me in jail,” she said on Thursday. “Since they kicked us off the land, I have been working as a manual laborer. Four of my children are working in Thailand as construction workers. They send a little money home. It is very difficult. I am extremely poor. I am in debt to a microfinance bank. What can I do?”
Ms. Mai said most of the 500 families evicted by the plantations in her district were offered new farms but turned them down because they refused to settle for significantly less land than they had lost, and that the 20-odd families that accepted did so only under pressure from soldiers.
She said she was offered a new two-hectare plot a few weeks ago for the five she had lost but also refused.
She said she and her neighbors would ask the government to be added to the list of sites eligible for compensation under the ministry’s new plan.
“I am going to submit a petition to the ministries again soon,” she said. “It is not fair.”
Mr. Lot, the ministry spokesman, could not be reached on Thursday for comment.
In 2014 the E.U., which imports sugar from Cambodia, started working with the government on a plan that aimed to fairly compensate families evicted by sugarcane plantations across the country.
In February, however, the government said it was abandoning that plan and would be compensating them itself. Rights groups fear that without the E.U.’s involvement, and the independent oversight its version of a plan promised, the families will continue to be shortchanged.
Wednesday’s announcement does not say what sort of compensation the families will be entitled to or when they might receive it.