Villagers Request Intervention in Land Dispute

Villagers from Koh Kong province delivered petitions in Phnom Penh on Friday seeking international intervention in their land dispute with powerful businessman and CPP senator Ly Yong Phat, alleging that his Koh Kong Special Economic Zone (SEZ) was encroaching on their farmland.

Five representatives of the 135 families who say they have lost their farmland to the massive industrial development, which was demarcated by concrete fences in January, delivered petitions to the Office of the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Union and the World Bank.

“Right now, the company is banning us from growing agricultural products on our farmlands,” said community representative Ruot Sophal. “We decided to seek help from the international community because the provincial authorities ignored…our problems.”

“We request to receive a fair amount of compensation from the company and we hope that the international community will put pressure on the authorities,” Mr. Sophal added.

Mr. Yong Phat said Friday that he did not owe the villagers anything because they didn’t have legal ownership of the farmland in question.

“I will not give any compensation because these 135 families do not own the farmlands where fences were built,” Mr. Yong Phat said.

“I bought these 2,200 hectares of land from other villagers who owned the land,” he said. Mr. Yong Phat said the rest of the SEZ consisted of about 9,977 hectares of land that was granted as a concession by the government for agricultural and industrial development.

Koh Kong provincial governor Bun Leut declined to comment on the dispute.

Three factories, owned by Japanese and Thai investors, are currently operating in the SEZ with another under construction, according to Sek Sam Ol, chief of planning and investment at the Koh Kong SEZ. As land grabbing has become a central human rights concern in the country, the international community has struggled to remain above the fray.

The E.U. has been criticized for helping fuel land grabbing and other rights abuses within Cambodia’s sugar industry, which has benefitted greatly from the a no-tariff trade scheme with the European bloc.

Mr. Yong Phat’s sugar sugarcane plantations have been at the center of a “blood sugar” campaign to pressure the international community to help clean up the industry.

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