Kampong Speu Province, Thpong & Oral Districts
In 2009, two companies were awarded land concessions totalling more than 20,000 hectares for sugarcane plantations in Thpong and Oral Districts, Kampong Speu Province. Ly Yong Phat controls both companies, in violation of the restrictions on the size of land concessions set out in the Land Law. The concession is again granted to two separate entities: Phnom Penh Sugar Co. Ltd. (registered in the name of Ly Yong Phat); and Kampong Speu Sugar Co. Ltd. (registered in the name of Ly Yong Phat’s wife, Kim Heang). A LYP Group brochure lists both concessions as being LYP Group investments.
The Phnom Penh Sugar concession encroached on more than 2,000 hectares of farmland belonging to more than 1,000 families in Amliang commune, Thpong district. Registered community forests were also consumed by the concession. As of July 2011, the company had already cleared all of the villagers’ farm land and community forest. Affected people were forced to accept replacement land that is at the foot of a mountain and too rocky to cultivate.
The two concessions are likely to affect many more communities in addition to those in Amliang, as large parts of the Phnom Penh Sugar plantation are still awaiting clearance and cultivation. The adjacent Kampong Speu Sugar concession is still largely uncultivated. When the company begins developing this concession, the situation is likely to be repeated in other villages that lie within in its boundaries.
Background on the Phnom Penh Sugar concession
On 18 March 2010, violence broke out between affected villagers, company staff and security forces. According to media reports, up to 500 people from 11 villages came to the offices of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company to speak with the company; however, when no one came to see them, violence erupted and five temporary company buildings were burnt down. According to one community representative, the villagers were upset as the company had then offered compensation of US$200 per hectare of rice farmland and $100 per hectare of plantation land, which they totally rejected. One community member stated that the company representative who made the compensation offer advised that if people did not take it, “they would get air instead”.
After this incident, over 100 soldiers were sent to guard the disputed land. It was reported that the troops deployed to guard the disputed land were Battalion 313, a former Khmer Rouge battalion. Earlier that month, the Cambodian government announced a new policy for encouraging the development of links between private businesses and military units. The policy was widely condemned by human rights groups because of concerns that this would lead to further militarization of land disputes. An official government document related to this policy released in March states that the “Ly Yong Phat Sugar Cane Plantation” provides “charitable support” to Battalion 313. In late April more troops were sent to the area.
On 19 April 2010, community members met with local authorities again to request that the concession boundaries be clearly marked out. At the same time, 300 community members protested near the concession. In the evening around 400 people blocked National Highway 52 in order to prevent company equipment passing. One community member stated that 1,000ha of community land had already been cleared, and that the conflict was now preventing people from planting rice. Fearing that land will be cleared during the night, some community members began sleeping in their fields.
The following day, 500 community members met with authorities to discuss a resolution to the conflict. Meanwhile 600 members continued to block National Road 52 to protest what they saw as the company’s insufficient action to resolve the dispute. A meeting was held at Amliang commune offices and was attended by Deputy Provincial Governor Pen Sambou, Thpong District Governor Tuon Song and Commune Chief Hab Dam. The media personality and advisor to the Prime Minister, Soy Sopheap, mediated the discussions. A village representative said that Soy Sopheap instructed villagers to write down how many hectares of land they owned and thumbprint the document. One community member stated: “We are afraid the authorities will cheat us…. If we agree to put our thumbprints [on the document] we are afraid they will change the document and make it look like we agreed that the company could grab our land.” Soy Sopheap said that the information would be passed on to the Prime Minister, and that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries had set aside around 1,050 hectares for the villagers in case the company encroached on their land.
In late April and early May, VOA and the Phnom Penh Postboth reported that more troops were sent to the area. NGOs expressed concern that this could increase the chances of violence erupting again.
Later in May 2010, residents were offered replacement land at the foot of Pis Mountain, Kampong Speu province. Residents rejected this offer as the land there is not arable. They requested land along National Road 52, which is better quality and close to water sources. In a meeting on May 26, Ly Yong Phat met with affected residents and told them that no one would be allowed to plant crops on the land that season, and promised them replacement land of equal size elsewhere.
Legal harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders
Since March 2010, at least 16 community members have been summonsed to the Provincial Court for questioning and several have been charged. After questioning at the Court, community representatives You Tho (age 62) and Khem Vuthy (age 30) were arrested and charged with “persuading the villagers to protest, inciting them to commit arson, destroying company property and uniting together.”
Community members attempted to travel to the court to show solidarity with the representatives who were called for questioning. 400-500 community members tried to attend the court, but police restricted their movement and set up several checkpoints en route. By the time many people managed to reach the court, the two representatives had already been arrested and taken into custody. Upon arrival at the court, community members found 100 police with shields and batons had surrounded the court and prevented them from entering. They remained outside the court and refused to leave until the representatives were released.
The Phnom Penh Post reported that ten people were injured the following day while trying to travel back to the provincial court. According to the Post: “[t]he police attacked the convoy with batons, disabled one mini-tractor by cutting its drive belt and, for the second day in a row, set up checkpoints to impede the villagers’ progress, rights groups said.” Ly Yong Phat stated that the two leaders could be released if they agreed to sign a contract with the provincial court stating that they would stop inciting people to protest. They were released later that week, although they are required to appear at court twice a month.
Negative impacts on local communities
Testimonies gathered from affected people reveal the following impacts from these concessions:
- Affected people’s livelihoods have been seriously impacted due to a loss of valuable farmland and grazing land for their livestock as well as lost crops that they have been cultivating for many years. Villagers have also lost access to valuable non-timber forest products that they have traditionally collected to supplement their incomes, due to the clearing of Community Forest.
- Some community members have lost their residential land and had their homes destroyed, rendering them homeless.
- Villagers already report water shortages because of the sugar cane plantation and a nearby concession for corn production.
- Many vocal community members fear they will be arrested for their activism and outspoken calls for fair compensation.