by Ben Sokhean
About 100 farmers from Koh Kong province traveled to Phnom Penh on Tuesday to press government officials for a solution to their long-running land disputes with a trio of sugarcane plantations they accuse of stealing their land.
Most of the protesters claim their land was taken by a pair of plantations once owned by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat, but since bought out by his Thai partners. About 15 of the protesters are in a similar dispute with a plantation owned by Heng Huy Agriculture inside the Dong Peng Multiple Use Area, a protected area under the management of the Environment Ministry.
“We have become poorer because the government provides economic land concessions to companies that grab our homes,” said Pav Nhoeung, who added she lost her home to the Heng Huy plantation and her farm to one of the other two.
“The farmland is our life,” she said. “We want to get our land back.”
The protesters spent about two hours outside the National Assembly before staff suggested they take their complaints to the Environment Ministry. They then spent another two hours there before an official warned them that city security guards would chase them away, according to the protesters.
Undeterred, they said they would try to petition the Ministry of Land Management and other government offices today.
Contacted later in the evening, however, Ms. Ngoeung said the Samaki Raingsey pagoda, which has long provided shelter to out-of-town protesters, had refused to allow them to stay the night.
Koh Kong governor Bun Leut said the Land Management Ministry was working to resolve the disputes, but did not know the details. Ministry spokesman Cheam Sophalmakara said officials were “resolving this issue,” but declined to elaborate. Representatives for the plantations could not be reached.
Heng Huy, the eponymous owner of the plantation, has accused the farmers of coming to occupy the land only after it was granted to him by the government. The other two plantations have also denied any wrongdoing. But NGOs have accused all three plantations of violating locals’ land rights.