About 500 people protested outside the Land Management Ministry on Wednesday over a land dispute involving more than 1,200 families who say they have been dispossessed by with two sugarcane plantations in Koh Kong province.
A group of protesters met with a Land Ministry representative during the protest, and as a result the ministry wrote to the provincial governor to negotiate a settlement, said Chhim Sophan. Sophan said she was in Phnom Penh to represent 844 families who had lost their land to Koh Kong Plantation.
“Our people, with 844 families, have a dispute with Oknha Ly Yong Phat who took our land,” she said, referring to a prominent ruling party senator and businessman.
The families want their land back as well as compensation for crops they say were destroyed, which were granted economic land concessions in 2006.
Phon Savin, a representative for 391 families in a dispute with the neighboring Koh Kong Sugar company, said that the families were struggling to live. Security guards from the plantation had shot their animals, and without any land to grow crops on there were few ways for them to make money, he said.
“If we have land, we can farm and support the family. Our children are missing out on an education because we have lost our work. Parents can’t send them to school and are also in debt,” Savin said.
A ministry directive issued after the meeting requests Koh Kong provincial governor Mithona Phouthorng to intervene and find a solution for. Neither Phouthorng nor ministry spokesman Seng Lot could be reached for comment.
Hour In, a monitor for local rights group Licadho in Koh Kong, said that has been many land disputes in Koh Kong in recent years. The government had found resolutions for a large portion of them, but there was more to be done, he said.
“If there is no effort made to handle these issues as soon as possible, it will affect the image of the government, especially the Land Management Ministry,” In said. “It shows the government is not paying attention to solve the problems of the people. It shows the government is incapable of solving the issues.”
A memo from the ministry summarizing its meeting with the protesters says the disputes involve 1,243 families from the districts of Botum Sakor, Sre Ambel and Thma Bang and more than 30,000 hectares of land. A ministerial report last year said there were still 1,500 unresolved land disputes across the country.