K Speu Public Forum Offers No New Solutions for Land Dispute

At a public forum in Omlaing commune, Kompong Speu pro­vince, yesterday, local villagers rejected new government offers intended to solve their long-running land dispute with CPP Se-nator Ly Yong Phat, rights workers and villagers said.

The public forum heated up quickly when a local official suggested villagers’ lands would not be affected at all by Mr Yong Phat’s land concessions.

Kompong Speu Deputy Gover­nor Loeung Sophat attended the forum and said that the Agricul­ture Ministry had reduced the size of Mr Yong Phat’s 10,000-hectare sugarcane concession to 8,343 hectares, while cutting down Mr Yong Phat’s wife’s ad­joining 10,000-hectare concession to 7,460 hectares. He explained the ministry had done so because of the villagers’ concerns that their farmlands would be affected.

Mr Sophat also told the villagers of plans to compensate them with 424 hectares in social land concessions in their commune and 1,040 hectares of land located in a community forest area in Trapaing Chor commune.

He denied villagers were being pressured by authorities, or by the presence of RCAF soldiers in the concessions, to accept the new offers.

Mr Sophat said he told villa­gers that they “are not being forced to sell the land to the firm or to swap the land…. It depends on villagers if they will sell or not.”

Villagers who attended the fo­rum said they were not im­pressed by the offers, which they flat out rejected.

Farmer Vath Phan, 48, said villagers demanded they be allowed to hold on to their current plots. “We still demand the same thing,” he said.

Around 600 villagers and local authorities attended the forum, said Chhim Savuth of the Cambo­dian Center for Human Rights, which organized the event, adding that parliamentarians of four parties had joined, except for the CPP.

The government offers had failed to include any of the villa­gers’ demands in the land dispute, he said, adding, “Basically, the authorities actively work for the firm” of Mr Yong Phat.

Villager Men Pao described how villagers rose up in unison when Thpong district governor Suon Song told the forum that village lands would simply not be affected at all by Mr Yong Phat’s concessions.

“Villagers stood up and argued with the governor about his false report; 3,000 hectares of land of villagers are being affected,” Mr Pao said, “We were so angry with the district governor.”

Meanwhile, authorities were continuing their operation of map­ping the individual plots of land of the 842 families in the area to de­termine who was being af­fected by the economic land concession.

Mr Phan, the local farmer, said around 200 families’ land had now been charted, including his plot. He added this operation had given villagers no new hope, as the company and authorities were only using the information to approach individual families and offer them a specific price for their land.

“Commune officials pressured me [Wednesday] to sell the land to the firm, [they said] otherwise it would be taken by the firm in the future and villagers would get nothing,” Mr Phan said.

 

 

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