Second Death Confirmed on Kompong Speu Sugar Plantation

A 44-year-old woman was run over and killed by a harvesting machine on Sunday while working on a sugarcane plantation in Kompong Speu province owned by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat, marking at least the second death on the plantation since December.

Y Mom, originally from Kandal province, was run over by the harvester after her crew took a break from work to wait for the machine to be fixed, said Sar Sok, second deputy chief of Thpong district’s Omlaing commune. 

“She died because the harvesting machine ran over her,” Mr. Sok said. “Before the incident happened she was with more than 20 others working on the plantation walking behind the harvester to collect the sugarcane.

“She complained she was unwell. When the harvester didn’t work, the workers took a nap and she went somewhere. After the harvester was fixed and started working again, the workers couldn’t find her and thought she had gone back home to relax since her husband lives nearby.”

Mr. Sok said Y Mom’s husband was a soldier posted near the plantation and that she decided to take up work there after coming to visit him a few months ago.

He said the plantation, which is financed by ANZ Royal Bank, contributed 1 million riel, about $250, toward funeral expenses and planned to give the family more.

Deputy commune police chief Ung Sokhim confirmed the death.

“According to witnesses, it was absolutely not an intentional killing. It was very busy, so nobody saw the victim,” he said.

Mr. Sokhim said he had not received a complaint about the death and declined to comment when asked if the police would investigate the accident further.

Seng Nhak, the managing director of Phnom Penh Sugar, and Mr. Yong Phat’s son-in-law, said the death was an unfortunate accident and that the woman had violated company policy by falling asleep in the field.

“She was sleeping in the sugarcane field and the people doing the harvesting did not know she was there,” Mr. Nhak said. “We clearly educate the people not to stay in the field during the harvesting season…. We will enforce the policy.”

Vun Eahn Heng, legal officer for rights group Equitable Cambodia, said this was the second such death on the plantation in the past four months.

He said a 17-year-old was also run over by a harvesting machine in December while also taking a nap in the field during a lunch break, according to the victim’s family.

According to local villagers, he added, a middle-aged man reportedly died on the plantation after falling off a company truck transporting sugarcane in February.

He said both families were paid between $750 and $1,000 by the plantation after agreeing not to file a complaint.

Equitable Cambodia’s Executive Director Eang Vuthy said the multiple deaths in the space of a few months were proof that safety conditions on the plantation were inadequate.

“I don’t think it’s safe enough, otherwise people would not be killed by the machine,” he said. “There needs to be clear instructions and safety.

“Unless those [safety] rules are enforced,” he added, “people will be killed again.”

Mr. Nhak, the plantation’s managing director, said the 17-year-old was killed when his brother, also working on the plantation, ran into him with a truck, and denied that anyone had died in February.

The plantation is one of several in Cambodia currently under investigation by the Coca-Cola Company, which sources sugar from the country, over long-running allegations of evicting local farmers from their land.

Human rights groups accuse Phnom Penh Sugar of encroaching on 2,000 hectares belonging to 1,000 families and want the European Union to suspend the duty-free access to Europe the company’s exports currently enjoy. They also want ANZ Royal, a subsidiary of Australia’s ANZ Bank, which finances Phnom Penh Sugar, to pressure the plantation into helping the affected families as well.

ANZ says it has asked the plantation to talk with the communities.

(Additional reporting by Sani Sinary)

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