Some 200 Koh Kong farmers locked in a long-running land dispute with two sugar plantations met Tuesday with a representative of the Thailand-based owners for the first time since the land dispute began in 2006.
Khamrom Phochai, a Thai national and representative of Thailand’s Khon Kaen Sugar Industry, the firm that holds a 70 percent stake in the two 10,000-hectare plantations, said he was appointed only recently to investigate the land dispute and had visited the area to follow up on a report from local government officials.
Mr. Khamrom said the report, received last month from commune officials, claimed that only nine families were still in dispute with the plantations, the rest of the original 400 families having settled and dropped their claims.
“After today’s meeting, I realized that there are 200 families still in dispute and asking for their land back,” he said.
Mr. Khamrom said he had reached no deal with the families on Tuesday but he would forward his findings to the company’s headquarters in Bangkok.
“I will make a formal report to send to my boss in Thailand since the company wants to end the dispute with the local villagers as soon as possible,” he said.
Many of the families in dispute with Khon Kaen sugar were violently evicted from their homes and farms since the plantations started moving in and have staged many protests, including setting up makeshift roadblocks on national highways, to demand the return of their roughly 2,000 hectares of land taken by the owners of the plantations.
The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand is currently investigating Kong Kaen and said last year that preliminary findings allowed for “reasonable belief” that the families’ rights had been breached.
Businessman and CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat originally owned 20 percent of the plantations but reportedly sold his stake in the disputed land to Kong Kaen in 2010.
Taiwan’s Ve Wong Corporation controls a 30 percent share in the plantations.
Kong Song, who lost most of his paddy fields to the plantations in 2006, hosted Tuesday’s meeting at his house in Chi Khor Loeu commune, Sre Ambel district.
Despite the long wait, Mr. Song said he welcomed the chance to finally meet with a representative of the Thai firm.
“Although there was no fruitful outcome from the meeting, we could at least meet with a Thai company representative to tell him the truth about the affected families,” he said.
“If the company wants to end ‘blood sugar,’ the company should just give back our farmland, then the problem is solved,” he said.
Aided by local advocacy groups, the families have dubbed the plantations’ product “blood sugar” and called on the European Union—which currently grants Cambodian sugar products duty-free access to the E.U. market—to drop the benefits.
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