Villagers fearing they will lose their land in Kompong Speu province yesterday blocked land-clearing equipment from reaching an agribusiness concession held by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat, sources said.
Protester San Thou, 40, said villagers in Thpong district blocked a road linking restive Omlaing commune with the provincial capital to cut off the company’s access to land earmarked to be a 10,000-hectare sugarcane plantation.
“The roadblock was created to prevent the firm’s equipment from moving…to the site to clear the land,” Mr Thou said by telephone.
Villagers say the government concession will affect 3,000 hectares of their property. On March 26 they briefly blocked National Road 4 to protest against the company’s land clearances.
Mr Yong Phat and officials claim the concession is on state land and does not overlap with villagers’ land. Adjacent to Mr Yong Phat’s concession is a second 10,000-hectare government land concession, which was granted to the senator’s wife to grow sugarcane.
Omlaing commune resident Vat Pao, 49, said yesterday that villagers want the concession boundaries redrawn along the course of two streams in the area named O’Ka Ek and O’Poulov. Another protester, who only gave his name as Phoeurn, 45, said villagers in the area on Sunday had chased away company workers who were operating 11 bulldozers and cranes to clear dikes surrounding the villagers’ rice paddies.
“We believe nobody, because local authorities have never worked in favor of poor farmers,” he said.
Negotiations with protesters are scheduled to continue today in order to resolve the conflict and remove the roadblock, Kompong Speu deputy provincial governor Pen Sambou said, adding that six meetings between officials and villagers had been held so far and no resolution had yet been found.
“The villagers’ demands are too great on some points,” Mr Sambou said, adding that he didn’t believe the farmers were simply aggrieved at the prospect of losing their land.
“We believe that someone’s politicians and outsiders are involved in inciting the villagers, because these repeated roadblocks don’t stem from the people’s will.”
During negotiations, villagers demanded state land as compensation for the loss of their paddy fields to the senator’s company, he said, adding this was “unacceptable” because “the state forest land legally belongs to the state.”
Mr Yong Phat yesterday again said his concession did not affect village lands, and said soldiers from RCAF’s 313th Brigade, which have been hired to protect his concession, would not harm villagers.
Officially sponsored by Mr Yong Phat, troops of the 313th were deployed to his company’s onsite office following a protest on March 18, during which angry villagers burned down two wooden structures owned by the company.
“We will peacefully talk to villagers and no [security] forces will hurt people,” Mr Yong Phat said, while also claiming “a few inciters” were behind the protests.