Some 200 villagers locked in a long running land conflict with a Chinese sugar firm in Preah Vihear province were blocked for several hours Tuesday from delivering a petition to the governor.
The group, many of them members of the Kouy minority, had traveled from Chhep district by tractor to seek help in their land dispute with Lan Feng sugar company, but police officials and authorities at Tbeng Meanchey district’s Bramer commune blocked the road. After several hours they were allowed through.
The villagers set out after a Chinese representative of Lan Feng told them the company could not hold a meeting as it had no ability to resolve the land conflicts, and asked villagers to agree to a resolution with authorities.
Approximately 250 families have been embroiled in a conflict over 6,000 hectares of land since 2012. Some of the families who were removed from the land returned starting in 2017 to cultivate the land because, they say, the company stopped growing sugarcane.
Srey Ream, a Kouy villager and representative of the Chok Chey community, told CamboJA he returned in 2017.
“During re-entry of the land, the authorities always came to block us from plowing the fields. However, I still continue farming on this land because it has been my land for a long time, and doesn’t belong to Chinese land,” he said. “We are always barred. No matter how hard it was, I will keep demanding until I get my land back.”
“My family’s livelihood has faced many challenges since the land dispute… It is more difficult to earn income, affecting children’s study and bank debt,” Ream said. .
Another Kouy minority, Suth Savon, lives in Tbeng Meanchey district, said that for nearly 10 years he hadn’t cultivated any crops, though he had previously occupied the land.
“I just returned to growing crops on that land in 2021,” he said, adding that authorities and forestry administration officials always prohibited him from cultivating on the land.
“When I was plowing farmland, they [forestry officials] came to tell me that the land belonged to a Chinese sugar company. You cannot grow a crop here,” he said.
Savon said he is still cultivating on the disputed land, and hasn’t been stopped, though others have faced further threats.
Lor Chan, Preah Vihear provincial coordinator of right group ADHOC, said that blocking citizens from submitting a petition is a restriction on the right to freedom of expression as well as the right to seek justice
“The authorities have ignored this issue, which was wrong. The authorities should seek justice for the people and call for a suitable solution,” he said.
Chan said that he is not optimistic that justice will be provided to the victims unless authorities are willing to resolve the problems.
Ly Sararith, deputy governor of Preah Vihear province, denied that the authorities blocked citizens from filing petitions, and said they were permitted to submit their petition.
“They just came to demand the authorities help in looking into this issue, and it is not necessary, it is nothing, and it is over,” he said.