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Koh Kong locals seek land’s return

Protesters gather at the Sre Ambel District Hall to submit a petition calling for the return of land they lost to an ELC in 2006. Photo supplied
Protesters gather at the Sre Ambel District Hall to submit a petition calling for the return of land they lost to an ELC in 2006. Photo supplied

Koh Kong locals seek land’s return

Representatives of 526 Koh Kong families hopped on their motos on Friday morning to deliver petitions to their district town halls calling for the return of land taken from them by a 2006 economic land concession (ELC), as well as compensation for lost crops.

In 2006, a 2,239-hectare ELC in Sre Ambel and Botum Sakor districts was handed to the Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company, then part-owned by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat.

The next year, a US Embassy cable would accuse Yong Phat of using his pull with the army to have military police officers “grab land from villagers and to clear their lands by burning down their crops and trees”.

Ensuing violence saw two villagers shot. Yong Phat sold his share in the company in 2010, and his spokesman yesterday declined to comment on the situation.

The eviction has become what Eang Vuthy, executive director of land rights NGO Equitable Cambodia, yesterday characterised as “one of [Cambodia’s] oldest land disputes”.

“I think people are hopeless,” said Vuthy. “But the recent government announcements, especially by the prime minister, mean people are now trying to reach out to the government.”

Oam Phon, a representative of the aggrieved villagers, said Friday’s protesters carried banners bearing slogans such as “Samdech Hun Sen, please find justice for all of us”.

“We think Samdech [Hun Sen] is our second father,” Phon explained.

The prime minister’s intervention on the side of the evicted in recent weeks – such as dispatching his sons to secure bail for two detained land disputants in Kampong Speu – has seemingly ignited hope among Cambodians who lost land to ELCs, triggering fresh petitions from displaced villagers.

District officials were unreachable for comment yesterday.

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