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Koh Kong families’ row with sugarcane firm ‘already settled’

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Koh Kong provincial deputy governor Sok Sothy holds a meeting last year. INTERIOR MINISTRY

Koh Kong families’ row with sugarcane firm ‘already settled’

The Koh Kong Provincial Administration announced that it would not accept the settlement demanded by the group of land activists consisting of 743 families in Sre Ambel and Botum Sakor districts who have been protesting over a land dispute.

This group has already received compensation in line with the government’s policies established in 2017, according to deputy provincial governor Sok Sothy.

Sothy said the land dispute was between the families and Koh Kong Plantation Co Ltd, which had already completely resolved the conflict. The other parties to the dispute include a group of 200 families, another group of 175 families, a third group of 585 families and a fourth group of 671 families.

Sothy said that in May 2019, there were still 843 families protesting and that group consisted of 743 families led by Chhim Saphan who he said had mobilised people from several districts to protest in front of the provincial hall and at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban

Planning and Construction in Phnom Penh.

Sothy said the official documentation indicated that they do not have the necessary land tenure documents nor have they filed any actions since 2006 with any authority or institutions.

He said that during the 30-day campaign they engaged in from September 4 to October 3, 2017, the land management ministry issued a public statement to all stakeholders to fill out the required forms and they had not participated.

“Regarding the rallies and protests, many meetings led by Chhim Saphan – their ringleader – took place from July 6, 2018, to December 10, 2021, at various locations, especially at the provincial hall, to encourage people to continuously protest illegally in public,” Sothy said.

“In this regard, the provincial administration categorically refuses to [accept] the protests demanding or resolving the claims of the 743 families of land activists,” he said.

He added that the provincial administration has asked Saphan and the people who follow him to stop this illegal activity because their protest activities disrupt social order and affects public security.

Sothy said that Saphan, a former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) member and activist, led the people to protest these land issues in the province in order to cause social unrest and was not sincerely interested in or even demanding a solution to the real problems.

“The provincial administration has issued a press release explaining that we will not solve this case. The company’s land is state land that it has leased from the state, so it’s under the government’s jurisdiction,” he said.

He said the provincial administration is currently working with the court to deal with the land brokers whose illegal dealings were the source of these chaotic protests.

Thong Chan Dara, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the families who were still protesting against the sugar company whose plantation has taken over their land or intends to are doing so because they have nowhere else to go should they be evicted.

“In the past, the provincial administration has resolved some of these land disputes, but now there are more families involved and they have no place to stay so what else can they do but protest?

“If the provincial administration does not resolve this issue, then the problem won’t just go away. Last week people invaded the company’s site and occupied it because they said it was their land that they used to live on,” he said.

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