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Better Policy Needed to Prevent Land Disputes: Rights Worker

Villagers in Kampong Speu protest against Phnom Penh Sugar Company for land grabbing.

Villagers in Kampong Speu protest against Phnom Penh Sugar Company for land grabbing.

Around 600 families in Kampong Speu province have become the victims of land grabs under government concession to a rubber plantation, a rights investigator said Monday, and more can be expected in the future without a change in government policy.

The ongoing dispute between villagers and the Phnom Penh Sugar Industrial Co., Ltd., owned by Ly Yong Phat, a senator for the Cambodian People's Party, has led to arrests and violent protests.

Rotha Vy, a Kampong Speu investigator for the rights group Adhoc, told “Hello VOA” the government must consider a licensing process that can prevent such conflicts.

Concessions to companies should not be given “unless there is an endorsement from people in the area to accept a company's investment,” he said.

Government officials should visit proposed concession sites to make sure a deal won't hurt the environment or the land of the people, he said. “And if it affects the rice fields of the people, it should not be allocated. Don't touch it.”

Phnom Penh Sugar received its concession from the Ministry of Agriculture in February, but it has run into resistance from villagers since it began operation. Families there say the concession has forced them off their land illegally, and they have set fires to company buildings and equipment and held prolonged demonstrations demanding compensation or other resolutions.

Yu Tho, a village representative from Amleang commune, Thpong district, told “Hello VOA” he had been jailed for about a week for inciting protests against the company.

“I am not a perpetrator,” he said. “I'm just one who stands for the interests of the people.”

Yu Tho said local officials had sided with the company and were not reporting the situation accurately to government leaders.