After villagers last week threatened to protest, Environment Ministry officials were to travel today to Kompong Speu province to discuss an agribusiness land concession which rights workers say is being constructed in a wildlife sanctuary by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s sister Hun Seng Ny.
The last remaining population of Cambodia’s Suoy ethnic minority say their community risks dissolution due to the land clearances by the Singaporean-backed HLH Agriculture, which was granted the 10,000 hectare concession in March of last year by Mr Hun Sen.
Environment Ministry Secretary of State Thuk Kroeun Vudtha said yesterday he was to travel to Oral district with Chhay Samith, head of conservation at the ministry, to discuss land offered to the villagers in compensation.
“We are going to solve the problem that the indigenous people want more land,” he said, adding that the matter should not be described as a “land dispute.”
The concession is located with the 255,000-hectare Phnom Aural Wildlife Sanctuary, which is officially controlled by the Environment Ministry.
Villagers were originally offered 5,000 hectares in compensation but have since asked for an additional 2,000 hectares, according to Mr Kroeun Vudtha.
According to deputy district governor Muong Thy, officials have calculated that each of 350 families should receive 15 to 20 hectares of farmland, or 7,000 hectares.
“They want about 2,000 hectares more. We cannot make the decision so we referred it to the ministry to make the decision,” said Mr Thy.
Am Sam Ath, an investigator for the rights group Licadho, said yesterday that the company should have studied the potential effects of the concession before reaching the current impasse with local inhabitants.
“The concession should be done both to the advantage of the company and the people,” he said.
Ven Sami, a villager representative, said the land in question was not negotiable.
“If they want the land, they should kill the people in the five villages,” she said.
Plans for today’s protest have been postponed until early next month as protesters are not yet ready, she added.