Farmers Ask Lawmakers to Settle Land Disputes

About 250 farmers representing more than 700 families from Preah Sihanouk and Svay Rieng provinces traveled to Phnom Penh on Monday to protest in front of the National Assembly, where they handed petitions to lawmakers asking them to intervene in their land disputes.

According to the farmers, about 660 families in Svay Rieng accuse an Indian-owned sugarcane plantation of encroaching on their farms in 2010. The farmers from Preah Sihanouk say about 100 families have been feuding with the Yis Chea company, a Cambodian firm that owns a cassava plantation, since 1992.

“We want the National Assembly to intervene and push the [local] authorities to find a solution for the farmers because they are facing land disputes with the companies,” said Theng Savoeun, secretary-general of the Coalition of Cambodian Farming Communities.

Mr. Savoeun said authorities in both provinces have been ignoring the families’ pleas for help for years. He said the families want lawmakers to press for an investigation into whether those authorities have been colluding with the companies.

Lor Kheng, a CPP lawmaker from Preah Sihanouk, accepted the farmers’ petitions along with opposition lawmakers Dang Chamroeun and Kong Sophea.

Ms. Kheng said she recently visited the disputed site and had asked Environment Minister Say Sam Al to cut a piece of land out of the concession for the families in line with government’s so-called “tiger skin” policy.

“The minister told me he will solve the problem; he will cut the tiger skin for the affected families,” she said. “But he may need more time to work out the case.”

An additional 200 families from Svay Rieng’s Romeas Hek district, where residents accuse the NK Ventures sugarcane plantation of grabbing their farms, were planning to join the trip, but were stopped by police from leaving the province, said Lop Sophal, one of the thwarted travelers.

“The district police chief called the drivers and told them not to take people to Phnom Penh,” he said. “One of the seven drivers told me that the district police chief threatened him.”

District police chief Sam Sam Ol could not be reached for comment.

Deputy provincial governor Rous Chhay said he was unaware of any attempt to prevent the farmers from traveling to Phnom Penh. As for their land dispute, he said, they did not raise complaints when details of the plantation were made public before its approval.

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