Koh Kong Sugar has offered to settle its yearslong dispute with Cambodian families who accuse its plantations of stealing their land, but the farmers remain wary of being able to secure a fair deal.
The firm, a subsidiary of Thailand’s Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Limited (KSL), made the offer during a meeting Saturday in Bangkok with community representatives and the NGOs helping them.
The 200 families say the loss of their farms to KSL’s two sugarcane plantations in Koh Kong province has driven them into poverty, and they want the land back. But Teng Kao, a representative of the families, said the firm preferred to pay them off.
“I told them we want our land. The company wanted to offer us compensation. But I cannot decide,” said Mr. Kao, who lost 14.5 hectares himself to the plantations. “I have to talk to our people and the other representatives. The company agreed to talk with us again after we talk to our people.”
Mr. Kao said KSL also suggested giving the families new land in return for what was lost, but he was worried it would be far from their current homes.
“We want our land,” Mr. Kao said. “Our living depends on it. If we have no land we will die. If they offer us compensation, we are worried we cannot use it to buy new land, because right now land is very expensive.”
Eang Vuthy, executive director of Equitable Cambodia, who also attended the meeting on behalf of the families, said he hoped their next meeting with the firm would happen in Cambodia.
“We want this to happen soon, and we don’t want to delay,” he said.
Community representatives from Oddar Meanchey province, where hundreds of other families are in a similar dispute with plantations owned by Thai sugar firm Mitr Phol, also made the trip to Bangkok, but Mr. Vuthy said they failed to secure a meeting.
Koh Kong Sugar’s general manager, Thanakorn Burintarachart, who represented KSL at the meeting, did not respond to a request for comment.
The meeting with KSL came just a day after the Coca-Cola Company announced plans to carry out social, environmental and human rights assessments of its major sugar suppliers over the next few years, including those in Thailand, where KSL and Mitr Phol are both headquartered.
© 2013, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.