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EU To Look Into Sugar Deals, Land Disputes

Villagers in Kampong Speu protest against Phnom Penh Sugar Company for land grabbing, in May 2010.
Villagers in Kampong Speu protest against Phnom Penh Sugar Company for land grabbing, in May 2010.

Representatives of the rights group Licadho met with European Union officials on Friday, following reports this week that the EU's preferential trade polices were linked to agricultural land evictions.

Officials from Licadho and the EU confirmed the closed-door meeting on Friday but declined to elaborate.

However, the meeting follows a week of increased media scrutiny questioning whether the EU's trade deals are being taken advantage of by companies behind the forced evictions of thousands of people.

The EU's Cambodian charge d'affaires, Rafael Dochao-Moreno, said at an EU-sponsored human rights forum on Wednesday the EU would look into whether its Anything But Arms program, which provides tariff exemptions for goods exported from less-developed countries, was linked to illegal evictions.

“This is something we are analyzing now,” the Cambodia Daily quoted him saying.

The Cambodia Daily also reported last week that the sugar plantation operations of Cambodian People's Party Senator Ly Yong Phat were fueling land disputes while cashing in on the EU trade deal.

Villagers in the provinces of Koh Kong and Kampong Speu have alleged that sugar plantations operated by Ly Yong Phat have pushed them off their land. Major protests have ensued, leading to violence and arrests.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote a letter to opposition party lawmakers defending the Kampong Speu concession, given by the Ministry of Agriculture, an act which Dochao-Moreno was quoted as saying had prompted the EU investigation.

Ly Yong Phat told VOA Khmer on Friday that his sugar plantations did not have deals with Europe.

The Cambodia Daily, however, reported that Ly Yong Phat operated sugar contracts through a joint venture with Thai company Khon Kaen Sugar, which in turn sells it to a British industrial food company.

“Before the EU has agreements with companies in Cambodia, they should investigate whether those companies are involved in human rights abuses, before they take the goods for import into Europe,” Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said.