K Speu Villagers End Blockade in Land Protest

Kompong Speu province villagers involved in a land dispute with CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat said yesterday they had removed a roadblock set up on Monday and agreed to be fingerprinted for a census to determine how much land each family owns, villagers said yesterday.

The concessions come after the intervention of self-styled political fixer and pro-government television personality Soy Sopheap and Kompong Speu deputy provincial governor Pen Sambou, who have been negotiating with the villagers.

Fearing they would lose their land to an agribusiness concession granted to Ly Yong Phat, villagers blocked land-clearing equipment from reaching the concession site in Thpong district’s Omlaing commune. Mr Yong Phat and his wife have been granted two 10,000-hectare concessions slated to become sugarcane plantations but villagers claim that 3,000 hectares of that land is actually their property.

According to villager Nuon Savi, 46, more than 500 local residents took part in a four-hour meeting held at the Omlaing commune office yesterday co-chaired by Mr Sambou, Mr Sopheap and local authorities.

“I fear losing the land, [so] I just went straight to thumbprint hoping [Mr Sopheap] can help get us our land,” said Mr Savi.

He added that the roadblock was removed after the meeting, where Mr Sopheap told villagers to thumbprint the paper allowing the land census to move forward.

“The authorities and Mr Sopheap declared that villagers had to thumbprint to prove the identities of the affected families,” said San Thou, 40, adding that villagers had asked Mr Sopheap for his help hoping that the influential figure could speed up negotiations in advance of the approaching cultivation season.

“The authorities will go to the site with villagers so people can point out the location of their farmland,” he explained of the agreement. “Then they will measure the exact size of the land in the field to compare to the figures villagers have given.”

“We will continue solving the matter tomorrow with villagers who claimed that their land was affected,” said Mr Sambou, the deputy governor. He said he was optimistic the dispute could be solved before cultivation season arrives “if there is no interference from outsiders and politicians.”

He added that authorities have attempted many times to solve the matter, but their proposed solutions–including a $200 payment for each hectare of affected rice paddy, or a possible land swap–have all been rejected by villagers.

Contacted by phone yesterday, Mr Yong Phat said his company is clearing his allotted concession area, not farmland.

“Villagers should be happy with the arrival of my company to invest and develop their area,” he said. “But I’m really sorry that a few bad people are inciting villagers to oppose the government’s efforts to develop the country along with the private sector.”

“People aren’t blocking the road now. Everything is ok,” he added.


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