Villagers Seek Help in Long-Lasting Land Dispute

About 50 members of a Svay Rieng province community that has been caught in a land dispute with a sugarcane company for seven years delivered petitions to the Council of Ministers and Land Management Ministry on Monday seeking government intervention, community representatives said.

In early 2010, Indian-owned NK Ventures was granted a 1,200-hectare plot of land by the government to develop a sugarcane plantation in Romeas Hek district’s Ampil and Koki communes. About 700 impacted villagers claimed at the time that they had not received compensation from the company for their land. They requested 20 percent of the company’s land be returned to them for farming, but say it was never granted.

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Phnom Penh’s Prampi Makara district security guards confront about 50 villagers from Svay Rieng province’s Romeas Hek district outside the Council of Ministers’ headquarters on Monday morning. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

On Monday, roughly 50 villagers traveled to Phnom Penh because local officials had failed them, said community representative Khieu Saron, 36.

“This is the second time we came here, because after the first time they didn’t respond to our petition,” she said, explaining that a group had also requested help from the Council of Ministers in April. “Now, we are so poor and we don’t have enough food…. If they keep clearing the land, soon we will die of starvation.”

Ms. Saron said about 20 of Phnom Penh’s Prampi Makara district security guards had met the group outside the Council of Ministers headquarters and blocked them from entering the building. An official came outside to accept the petition, she said.

At about 10 a.m., the group arrived at the Land Management Ministry and delivered a second petition. They headed back to Svay Rieng in the afternoon, she said.

Soeung Saran, executive director of the housing rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, which has been working with the group on advocacy training for about a year, said the community members had lived in the district since the late 1990s. Local authorities had not helped the villagers receive land or compensation, he said.

“[This] shows the effort of the community…to seek a solution from the national level,” he said. The government has “heard what is happening at the ground level, and we cannot say whether they will get a solution, but at least they can bring the struggle to the national level to seek a resolution.”

Contacted on Monday, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he was unfamiliar with the land dispute and had not received a petition from the community, while Land Management Ministry spokesmen Seng Lot and Cheam Sophal Makara could not be reached for comment.

But Svay Rieng deputy provincial governor Pich Sovann said the villagers had received ample compensation due to local government efforts.

“Since the villagers protested, there were two times the government cut some of the company-granted concession of 1,200 hectares,” he said, claiming that in total, 400 hectares were divided among villagers, contradicting the claims of the villagers and Sahmakum Teang Tnaut. “The government already resolved their issues…. What more do they need?”

(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)

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