Villagers say firm illegally clearing land in K Speu dispute

Villagers in Kompong Speu province yesterday accused a firm owned by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat of illegally clearing land granted to them by the government in an ongoing land dispute.

But a representative for the Phnom Penh Sugar Company said the firm had already bought the land in question, which is in Thpong district’s Omlaing commune, and accused “opportunists” of squatting there.

The contested land covers ten hectares within a roughly 50-km zone that extends 200 meters on either side of road 52 and runs through an agricultural concession operated by Mr Yong Phat, commune chief Hap Dam said yesterday.

The thin stretch of land was granted to villagers in July after it was excised from the agricultural concession operated by Mr Yong Phat that has itself been the scene of violent confrontations. Mr Yong Phat’s wife has been granted a similar-sized concession nearby.

According to Ms Dam, a committee downsized the concession from 9,393 to 8,343 hectares to prevent overlap with villagers’ land.

“What the government and provincial authorities decided was in favor of the farmers,” she said.

But villagers said yesterday that Mr Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar Company was illegally occupying about 10 hectares of this strip of land and that the firm began clearing this land last week.

“The firm is clearing the land because they claim they purchased it from owners who had legal title,” said You Thou, a representative of more than three hundred families who say they are affected by Mr Yong Phat’s concession. “But those titles were made to occupy villager land by a number of powerful individuals who are not local residents.” Mr Thou declined to name these individuals.

Phnom Penh Sugar Company representative Ms Kim Sun denied that the firm had illegally occupied the land.

“We always implement the government order and keep our company from wrongdoing,” she said, adding that her firm has purchased about 10 hectares from five families for a total of roughly $25,000.

“In fact, a few opportunists have moved onto property sold to our firm by legal landowners,” she said. “These opportunists are trying to grab the land our firm legally purchased.”

The accusations yesterday came after Prime Minister Hun Sen defended the granting of the concession to Mr Yong Phat, saying in a letter to the opposition SRP last week that the government followed the proper procedure.

Provincial secretary-general Vann Sokha said yesterday that the dispute in the 200-meter zone along road 52 was personal because it did not involve Mr Yong Phat’s concession area.

“The dispute does not involve the concession area the government granted to the firm,” he said. “So it is a personal conflict after villagers were granted rights to live and develop 200 meters on either side of the road.”


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