More than 500 villagers representing 1,317 families from three districts in Koh Kong province gathered to protest at the Land Ministry on Monday to demand the ministry’s intervention to solve their land disputes.
The villagers, from Sre Ambel, Botum Sakor and Thma Baing districts, said they had lost their land to sugarcane plantations Koh Kong Plantation — owned by ruling party senator Ly Yong Phat — and Koh Kong Sugar Industry in a dispute they traced back to 2007.
They said they had initially shied away from protesting because they were concerned for their safety and did not think they had enough information. But they heard Land Minister Chea Sophara say that he was committed to resolving all land disputes involving the two companies, and reached a consensus to protest, they said. This was their third protest since reaching the decision.
Chim Thon, a villager from Prek Chik village in Sre Ambel’s Chi Khor Loeu commune, said the protesters had asked authorities to provide them with 2 hectares per villager for farming.
She added that Sophara had previously reached a similar settlement with some other villagers also involved in a dispute with the two companies.
“They have only solved the issue with a part of Sre Ambel district. What about Thma Baing and Botum Sakor districts?” Thon asked. “Your Excellency, please check and do not say that the villagers always cheat.”
During the protest, the minister assigned secretary of state Tep Thon to meet with the protesters. He spent four hours in a closed-door meeting with 18 representatives of the protesters.
According to minutes from the meeting, the secretary of state required that any villager not genuinely involved in the land dispute or who had already received compensation walk away from the case. He also required that villagers must receive a certificate from local authorities attesting to the number of people and plots of land affected.
The Land Ministry representative asked that the protesters return home that day, but they asked to stay along the ministry fence because they did not have trucks.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager at human rights group Licadho, said the protesters should begin the process of obtaining land data, including boundaries, and have them recognized by authorities.
“These documents are just initial documents, but the important thing is doing actual research with the local authorities [and] the Land Ministry, and there would be no issue in the future,” he said.
(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)