Villagers March Into Commune Offices, Hope to Reclaim Land

Members of more than 550 families embroiled in a land dispute with two Thai-owned sugar companies in Koh Kong province marched through four communes on Wednesday, delivering petitions to the chiefs of each.

“We protested and submitted petitions to the four commune authorities to demand back our farmland being claimed by sugar companies,” said Orm Phon, a representative of 212 families from Chi Khor Loeu commune who claim to have lost more than 911 hectares of land to Koh Kong Sugar and the Koh Kong Plantation Industry Company.

He said that 554 families from four communes—Chi Khor Loeu, Chi Khor Krom and Dang Peng in Sre Ambel district, and Kandorl in neighboring Botum Sakor district —had lost 2,435 hectares of farmland to the two firms, representatives of which could not be reached.

Chhay Vuth, the chief of Chi Khor Loeu commune, said the villagers’ demand would be hard to meet, as the land in question had been issued to the companies by the government as land concessions to grow sugarcane.

“The villagers’ demand is beyond my capacity because it’s been 10 years that the land has been occupied by the sugar plantation companies,” Mr. Vuth said.

“More importantly, some families that protested today already took money from the sugar plantation companies [in compensation].”

Villagers have been locked in a land dispute with the Thai-owned firms for a more than a decade.

Last year, Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission accused the firms’ parent company, KSL, of “serious human rights violations.” There is also a case pending in the U.K. against Tate & Lyle, which bought off two KSL plantations in 2010 and 2011.

Nauk Rin, a 55-year-old representative of 63 families in Kandorl commune, said his community had never been paid for more than 220 hectares of land grabbed by the two sugar firms.

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