Despite promises by two government officials on Monday that their land will be protected, ethnic minority Suoy villagers and human rights workers said yesterday that concerns were again mounting over the future of the community’s land in the Phnom Aural Wildlife Sanctuary, which is currently overlapped by a Singaporean agribusiness land concession.
Both the Suoy and the firm still appear to disagree over the land in question.
Ven Samin, a Suoy community representative, said an assessment carried out by local officials Tuesday was supposed to have established borders for the concession that skirt the land belonging to the Suoy villagers in Kompong Speu province’s Oral district. The community, which is believed to number about 1,200, is the last of its kind in Cambodia.
“The authorities still let the concession overlap with our farmland and forest,” Ms Samin said by telephone yesterday, adding that the area in question falls between two streams known as Ta Kraing in the east and Bancha in the west, measuring about 2,000 hectares of territory.
“We are deeply concerned as they claimed we can keep our land but the practical measurement [of boundary demarcation] would seem different,” she said.
Ms Samin also claimed that Suoy villagers had been threatened with imprisonment by local authorities, including district police chief Dos Sim, for being too outspoken to the media and local rights groups in recent weeks over their opposition to the Singaporean firm’s planned corn plantation.
Contacted by telephone yesterday, the police chief denied the allegation saying he had done “nothing wrong.”
“The land issue is still of serious concern,” said Chheng Sophors, a senior investigator for the human rights group Licadho. “We hope the final resolution will be made in favor of the indigenous villagers.”
Muong Thy, Oral district deputy governor, said Tuesday’s boundary assessment had proved useless and he accused Suoy villagers of claiming land that falls inside the HLH company’s concession area.
“We are trying to get to the end of matter next week,” Mr Thy said. “The government guarantees the community forest farmland will never be lost to the firm,” he maintained.
On Monday, government officials and a manager at HLH Agriculture Cambodia Co Ltd, which was granted a 9,985-hectare land concession by the government, denied allegations from villagers and rights workers that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s sister Hun Seng Ny had any links to the HLH firm and promised to protect the land of the indigenous community.
But Suoy villagers and human rights workers reiterated yesterday that Ms Seng Ny was present at a meeting held last May between local authorities and villagers.
“She [Ms Seng Ny] attended a meeting in May but she did not say anything when authorities said her company would develop the area,” Ms Samin claimed. In February, Ms Samin continued, Licadho had shown villagers a photograph of Ms Seng Ny that looked strikingly similar to the lady present at the meeting in May. Contact details for Ms Seng Ny were not available yesterday.
According to business registration records at the Ministry of Commerce, HLH Agriculture Cambodia Co Ltd is wholly owned by HLH Agri International Pte Ltd, which is part of the Singapore-based HLH Group.
Ong Bee Huat is listed as the director of HLH Agriculture Cambodia and appears on the HLH Group website as executive deputy chairman of HLH Group in Singapore.
HLHS Agriculture Cambodia Co Ltd, another subsidiary of HLH Agri International Pte Ltd, operates in Cambodia. This firm is 70 percent owned by HLH Agri International and 30 percent owned by Sokha YLP Co Ltd. Another HLHS director is identified as Sar Sokha, who bears the same name as the son of Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng.
Sar Sokha is also on the board of YLP Group, according to the company’s website, where the managing director is Mao Malay, the wife of former RCAF commander-in-chief Ke Kim Yan who now heads up the National Authority for Combating Drugs. Another YLP Group director is Ke Sounsophy, wife of Mr Sokha and daughter of Ms Malay and Mr Kimyan. Attempts to contact Mr Sokha yesterday were unsuccessful.
Ang Chee Yen, operations manager at HLH Agriculture Cambodia Co Ltd who attended Monday’s meeting with the Suoy in Aural, referred questions about the concession land demarcation and the identities of the company’s local directors to company director Mr Bee Huat who could not be reached for comment.