Thai Sugar Firms Refuse to Meet With Evictee Representatives

Two Thai sugar companies have turned down a request to meet with NGOs and community representatives who accuse them of having illegally and sometimes violently forced hundreds of families off of their land in Cambodia.

Mitr Phol Sugar and Khon Kaen Sugar are both facing complaints filed with Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission that their plantations in Oddar Meanchey and Koh Kong provinces, respectively, have forced hundreds of families off their land.

Representatives from the two communities and the NGOs helping them are in Thailand this week to re-release a report on their allegations against the firms and last month asked to meet with each of them either today or Saturday.

“We regret to inform you that we will not be able to attend such [a] meet­ing because of [a] hectic work schedule,” a KSL representative said in an email. “Never­the­less, our company does not neglect this issue, provided that we have cooperated with our partner to collect and investigate all relevant facts to solve the situation.”

KSL’s minority partner in the Koh Kong plantations is Taiwanese firm Ve Wong.

Mitr Phol turned down the request for a meeting on the grounds that the NGOs’ latest re­port, which was released in Cambodia in September, contains no new in­formation about the case.

“After reviewing the document, we do not see any new information and therefore respectfully refer you to our previous public statement,” the firm’s communications director, Intira Park, said in an email.

In the July 2012 statement, Mitr Pohl said it does not support encroachment on private land or forced evictions and followed all local laws to acquire its Oddar Meanchey plantation. It added that it was not involved in the government’s admittedly fraught consultations with local families but lauded the jobs and training its operations were providing.

But local farmers like Song Ran say the seasonal and modestly paid plantation jobs are a poor substitute for the farmland they once owned. Ms. Ran said she and her husband lost 2 hectares on which they used to grow cashew nuts and jackfruit.

“After hearing they refused to meet, I feel very disappointed. They have taken our land and left us poor,” she said. “It is the second time the two companies declined to meet with us; it proves that the sugar firms don’t want to solve the ongoing land dispute.”

Eang Vuthy, executive director of Equitable Cambodia, one of the NGOs helping the families, confirmed that this was the second time the firms had declined to meet them.

“This is [a] really disappointing response from them. We and victims are traveling all the way from Cambodia with good faith to discuss issues with them but unfortunately our request was rejected,” he said.

Families affected by KSL’s plantations in Koh Kong are currently suing U.K. sugar firm Tate & Lyle, a subsidiary of American Sugar, in London. They claim the firm owes them money because it has bought sugar from the plantations and profited from it. Tate & Lyle denies responsibility. The case is expected to go to trial early next year.

(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)

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