Updated: 1pm, Friday March 23, 2018
The Ministry of Land Management on Thursday said it has resolved two long-running land disputes between communities in Koh Kong’s Sre Ambel and Botum Sakor districts and two sugar companies owned by tycoon and ruling party Senator Ly Yong Phat involving more than 800 hectares of land.
The announcement, made at the ministry in the presence of both Yong Phat and Minister Chea Sophara, declared that the two companies – Koh Kong Sugar Industry Co Ltd and Koh Kong Plantation Co Ltd – agreed to cut out 825 hectares of land from their economic land concessions and hand it to villagers, some of whom also received additional monetary compensation.
Speaking at the ceremony, Minister Sophara declared that by accepting the solution, villagers had to sign away their right to protest over their land in the future.
“I do not want to see another 100 families come and protest again on the solved case after I have offered the solution for the 175 families. Therefore,
as I do not want such a situation, I ask for the victims of the land dispute to sign the contract to end the protests from now on,” he said.
One such contract seen by The Post read: “I promise with my thumbprint not to protest anymore after I got my land from the ministry officially and I will withdraw any complaint letter from [relevant institutions].”
The dispute involving a community of 200 families in Botum Sakor’s Kandorl commune began in 2003, and the one involving 175 families in Sre Ambel’s Chi Khor Leu commune began in 2005.
Prum Khum, a representative of the community in Kandorl, said he and his fellow villagers were happy with the solution, which provided each family with 1.5 hectares.
“We now have a chance to work and have a new living standard,” he said. “Now we have a right to build a home on our land.”
Since the land granted to villagers is different from where they had previously inhabited, Khum said he would like to see the government invest in building infrastructure and public services such as a road, school, health centre and pagoda in the new location.
Meanwhile, the families in Chi Khor Leu received 3 hectares and $2,500 each. Community representative Phav Nheung also welcomed the ministry’s decision and echoed Khum’s demands for infrastructure for her community as their new land was also not at the location of the old village.
“The government offered the land to the people in the remote area, which is far from their former village, and there is also no public service,” she said.
Vong Kosal, coordinator of the NGO Forum, welcomed the solution but noted that land disputes are seldom solved without an order from high levels of government, such as from Sophara himself.
Indeed, Koh Kong Provincial Governor Mithona Phouthorng said it was thanks to high-level ministry officials and the involvement of the EU that the case was resolved “smoothly” after more than a decade of waiting.
Senator Yong Phat, a Koh Kong native, maintained he had been unaware of the years-long disputes.
“In fact, I am not involved with the sugar companies [dispute], but previously, I brought [the companies] here [because I] saw that in my homeland, no one invests. So I tried to persuade them to come and then, they came . . . I have done my best to help them,” he said.