Sugar Dispute Resolution Leaves Some Communities Out

The Land Management Ministry on Wednesday announced a plan to resolve a yearslong land dispute between thousands of villagers and well-connected sugar barons by early next month, though not all affected communities were included.

The long-running dispute centers on the owners of sugar plantations, including CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat, whom villagers have accused of overseeing violent evictions and land grabs. The E.U., an importer of Cambodian sugar, started work on a comprehensive compensation plan for the families more than three years ago.

Protesters traveled from Preah Vihear to petition officials at Phnom Penh’s Chinese Embassy to intervene in their dispute with a Chinese owned sugar plantation on Wednesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

In a statement read by Land Management Ministry spokesman Seng Laut, the government announced a working group would be set up to find a solution for villagers in three provinces by October 3. The decision followed a meeting between the ministers of land management, commerce, agriculture and environment.

“The Land Management Ministry has given this job to provincial land management departments of Koh Kong, Kompong Speu and Preah Vihear provinces, to collect the identities of people and locations of the disputed land within 30 days,” Mr. Laut said outside the ministry’s office on Wednesday, where about 80 villagers from Koh Kong province had gathered to await the meeting’s outcome.

The working groups will be set up in the district halls of Oral district in Kompong Speu; Sre Ambel district in Koh Kong; and Tbeng Meanchey and Chey Sen districts in Preah Vihear, close to the affected communities.

“The Land Management Ministry wishes to invite people involved in the land dispute to come to fill in the form at the above-mentioned locations from September 4 to October 3,” the spokesman said

Eang Vuthy, the head of Equitable Cambodia, who works with communities evicted by sugar plantations, said on Wednesday he had questions about the plan’s narrow scope.

Mr. Vuthy noted there were affected villagers in other provinces—including hundreds in Oddar Meanchey province, where evictions were well documented by rights groups—as well as other districts in those three provinces, such as Thpong district in Kompong Speu.

Contacted about why those four districts were singled out, Mr. Laut, the ministry spokesman, said those were the only communities affected by evictions from sugar plantations.

About 40 ethnic Kuoy villagers who were affected by a sugar plantation in Preah Vihear province submitted a petition to the Chinese Embassy on Wednesday. The villagers asked the ambassador to request the Cambodian government cancel economic land concessions granted to Lan Feng and Rui Feng, as well as three other related sugar plantations, which stretch over 20,000 hectares and include more than $1 billion in investment.

One of the villagers, Meas Kimhem, accused the companies of grabbing land outside their land concessions and poisoning nearby sources of water.

“We wanted the government to register a communal forest for the minority people, but provincial authorities refused,” Ms. Kimhem said. “They told us that the land belonged to the state.”

Chum Sophoeut, one of five villagers who met with Chinese Embassy representatives, said the officials accepted the petition and promised to send the letter to the ambassador for consideration.

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