About 100 people representing nearly 200 families protested at the Ministry of Land Management in Phnom Penh yesterday, demanding the ministry expedite a solution to their land disputes with three sugarcane plantation companies in Koh Kong province.
The protesters, from Sre Ambel and Botum Sakor districts, have traveled to the capital several times in the past, seeking an end to their disputes with Koh Kong Sugar Industry (KSI), Koh Kong Plantation (KPT) and Heng Huy Development.
On the last occasion, on December 20, they submitted a petition to the National Assembly, Land Management Ministry and other institutions for intervention in the dispute that has been ongoing for more than 10 years.
At about 8am yesterday, carrying flags and banners, the protesters marched several kilometers from the Samaki Raingsey pagoda in Meanchey district – where they have been staying for more than a month – to the Land Management Ministry.
One woman fainted during the protest and was sent to hospital for treatment.
Phay Nherng, a representative of the families, said that after the citizens agreed to accept two hectares of land and demanded $5,000 in compensation per family, the ministry’s working team went to meet with KSI and KPT on January 20.
However, the ministry has yet to notify the citizens about the outcome of the meeting, so they regrouped at the ministry to demand answers.
“We want the ministry to tell us if the companies received our information,” she said. “What is their response to the issue? Why are they quiet?
“We have waited here for almost two months and we won’t go home because our people have no food to eat,” she added.
Ms. Nherng also asked the ministry to take action on a conflict between 15 families and Heng Huy Development involving 62 hectares of land.
Tep Thon, an undersecretary of state at the ministry and head of its working group for land dispute resolution, said the ministry has been pushing for a solution for the citizens, but said the companies were legally entitled to the land.
He added that the 15 families in dispute with Heng Huy Development would meet with company representatives on Sunday and Monday.
“The ministry is solving the problem,” he said.
Representatives of the three companies could not be reached for comment yesterday.
According to a report from the ministry’s working group, it is the government – not KSI or KPT – who has the right to give land to the citizens as the companies received their land concessions from the state.
However, the companies will hold internal discussions to check the citizens’ requests. The companies stated that before development began, authorities said only 400 families were affected, but 671 families have already been compensated.
In Kongchit, a provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, supported finding a solution between relevant parties to make the long-running dispute end soon.
“The institutions involved should accept the citizens’ request to consider a solution and hopefully reach a conclusion so people will calm down,” he said.
“The continued protest by citizens is their right because they want to reach a solution that will make this difficult situation end soon.”