Villager, Rights Workers To Visit EU In Brussels Over Sugar Land Disputes

A village representative from Kompong Speu province will travel to Brussels to talk to European Union officials about human rights violations by Cambodian sugar firms benefiting from an EU free-trade scheme, the villager and rights workers said yesterday.

You Thou, a representative of several hundred villagers in Thpong district’s Omlaing commune, said he would explain the impact of two 10,000-hectare sugar growing concessions granted to CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat and his wife in the area.

“It is a great opportunity to raise our concerns with European countries and EU officials over the ongoing land disputes with sugar companies,” he said.

Sok Heng, whose NGO Community Network is helping to arrange the ten-day trip, explained Mr Thou and rights workers had an appointment to meet EU officials during which Mr Thou would talk about how Cambodia’s growing sugar industry was leading to human rights violations and land grabbing.

“[Mr] Thou will have a chance to do international advocacy because the land dispute with the sugar company is a hot issue in his area,” he said, adding he himself had raised the issue of land grabbing for sugar cultivation in Cambodia at a civil society conference in Brussels on Oct 8.

Under the EU’s Everything But Arms initiative, Cambodian firms have been allowed to export tens of thousand of tons of sugar to the EU since late 2009 without import duties and with a guaranteed minimum price.

Rights groups have said Mr Yong Phat has illegally grabbed farmland belonging to hundreds of families, while receiving EU trade benefits for his sugar. They have asked the European Union in Cambodia to investigate if Cambodian sugar’s EBA status should be suspended because sugar firms have violated the scheme’s human rights provisions.

Mr Heng declined to specify which rights groups would travel with Mr Thou, when the meeting was scheduled, or if an official complaint would be filed with the EU.

Staff at Bridges Across Borders Cambodia confirmed the rights group was helping organize the EU visit, but referred further questions to director David Pred, who could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Rafael Dochao Moreno, the EU’s charge d’affaires in Cambodia, did not reply to a request for comment yesterday about the planned visit to the EU.

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