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Sugar Company Bringing in Soldiers: Protesters

 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.

Villagers in an ongoing land dispute in Kampong Speu province said Friday that local authorities have failed to settle on boundaries between their land and a sugarcane plantation, while more soldiers have moved into the area.

Three villagers in Omlieng commune, Thpong district, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said more than 100 armed forces, including soldiers and military police, have encamped in the disputed area since Thursday. That number was in addition to an estimated 200 security forces already in the area.

The Omlieng villagers said security forces came with the help of the Phnom Penh Sugar Co., Ltd., which is owned by a powerful Cambodian People’s Party senator, Ly Yong Phat, a claim the company denies.

“The company drove soldiers into the disputed area and, under the policy of the company, will deploy 10 soldiers ever 100 meters,” one villager told VOA Khmer.

The land dispute in Kampong Speu underscores the difficulties arising throughout Cambodia, which is pushing to develop more agricultural land and products. In the ensuing growth, villagers have often said they are illegally pushed from their land or have been defrauded of it.

Chheang Kim Sun, a representative of Phnom Penh Sugar, said Friday the company had not added more soldiers to the area. He accused the villagers of “singing better than the company.”

Hundreds of villagers have been protesting what they claim is an illegal land grab since March, including a prolonged demonstration in front of the provincial court, after several village representatives were arrested. The representatives were accused of inciting destruction of property, after setting fire to a company bulldozer and buildings on the land.

The villagers say Phnom Penh Sugar has taken more land than it was granted in an 8,000-hectare government concession, pushing them from their farms.

“The company has deployed more soldiers to show its power to villagers to scare them and reduce the protests of the villagers,” another Omlieng villager said.

Kong Sitha, first deputy Omlieng commune chief, told VOA Khmer he did not believe the deployment was new. “It’s just the old one that the company used before,” he said.

Local officials are still working on marking the boundary, he said.

“Until now, we’ve just limited the boundary between the company and the villagers 10 percent,” he said. “We will take one month to finish this job.”

Adhoc human rights investigator Rath Thavy told VOA Khmer on Friday farming season in the area was approaching with the rains, so authorities must solve the dispute as soon as possible.