Prime Minister Hun Sen has no immediate plans to sign a new petition asking him to endorse an initial plan to compensate thousands of families that have lost land to commercial-scale sugarcane plantations, a member of the cabinet said on Tuesday.
The news will be a blow to nearly 300 members of the families—some of whom are living in poverty—who were in Phnom Penh on Tuesday to deliver the petition to cabinet officials at Wat Botum Park.
The petition asks Mr. Hun Sen to sign off on the terms of reference for a compensation plan involving plantations across Cambodia. An E.U. delegation that imports some of their sugar has been working on the deal with the government for nearly three years.
The petitioners include families from across four provinces: Koh Kong, Kompong Speu, Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear. Several of the plantations are or have been owned by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat.
Soeung Sokhom, a representative for the families, said on Tuesday that they have been informed that the terms had already been submitted to Mr. Hun Sen’s cabinet and were awaiting his signature.
“The people affected by the sugarcane plantations have gone into debt, fallen into poverty and are all living in difficult situations,” he said.
The terms do not promise a quick fix. Should the prime minister sign them, it could take another 22 months to assess the claims, according to the E.U.
After taking their petition, however, Pal Chandara, a member of the prime minister’s cabinet who deals with land disputes, said Mr. Hun Sen would not be signing the terms anytime soon.
Mr. Hun Sen “will not sign because he wants lower officials from the Ministry of Land Management to do this job first,” he said. “Then [Mr. Hun Sen] will sign after the investigation.”
Eang Vuthy, executive director of family advocacy NGO Equitable Cambodia, said the terms were carefully designed with the E.U.’s help to ensure that the investigation remains open to continued input from the communities, the E.U. and NGOs like his.
The terms “will give the ministry responsibility to come up with the mechanism to assess the claims of the affected people and the process to validate the claims,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)