A group of 10 delegates from Koh Kong province submitted a petition yesterday to the human rights commission of the National Assembly, claiming that a Chinese company has illegally cleared more than 3,000 hectares of land belonging to them.
Eang Chan Try, one of the 10 delegates sent from the village, said that the developer Chinese-owned Union Development Group has violated this law, illegally claiming 1,001 hectares of occupied land and 2,600 hectares of agricultural land. Union Development Group was given a 36,000 hectare concession in 2008.
According to the so called “leopard skin” policy in the law on economic land concessions (ELCs) issued in 2012, land concessions must be delineated so that they don’t encroach on occupied or cultivated land.
The company’s series of alleged land-grabs since 2008 have affected 318 villagers in Botum Sakor and Kiri Sakor districts. Mr. Chan Try said the long run of land seizures must be stopped. “We want the government to seize this land back from the company,” he said. “We will not accept any resettlement compensations.” He added that the farmers need the land to continue their livelihood.
The government has often been slow to punish violations of the the ELC law, as large companies clear farmland that has belonged to villagers for years. “The implementation of the government’s [ELC law] has been slow,” said Eng Chhay Eang, chairman of the National Assembly’s human rights commission. “Officials are often careless of implementing government directives. We regret to see authorities – especially those with the Ministry of Environment – deal with these issues so carelessly.”
The spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, Sao Sopheap, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
This is not the first time Mr. Chan Try and the Koh Kong villagers have brought this issue before the national government. Mr. Chan Try has come to the national assembly three times since the land dispute with the Chinese corporation started in 2008. “But the company has still cleared our land,” he said, adding that the villagers are beginning to lose hope that the government will ever intervene.
The villagers met with Mr. Chhay Eang and Lok Chumteav Lor Kheng, who said they would would convey the letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen, and discuss the issue with the Minister of Environment Say Sam Al.
Kong Chit, Licadho’s coordinator in Koh Kong province, said the government should do more to enforce the “leopard skin” policy, for the good of both the villagers and the company: “If villagers still continue demanding their land back, the company will not be able to develop its investment,” he said.
Meanwhile, the villagers petitioning the government say they are discouraged by the slow response time, but not hopeless. Villager Mr. Chan Try said that even if the government doesn’t reach a decision on the dispute, the villagers will continue to come and submit their demands.