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Police officials stop villagers on National Road 4 yesterday on their way from Kampong Speu province to deliver a petition in Phnom Penh. Photo supplied

Villagers stopped en route to capital

Nearly 300 villagers from Kampong Speu were intercepted by district police yesterday while departing for Phnom Penh to submit a petition seeking Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet’s intervention in a seven-year-long land dispute with a sugar company.

The disputed land is part of a 9,000-hectare concession to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat, who also owns sugar plantations in Koh Kong and Oddar Meachey provinces that were developed following evictions.

One of the villagers, Nhang Ran, 38, said 290 locals from six villages in Thbong district boarded 12 vans destined for Phnom Penh before being halted, without reason, by a barricade erected by more than 20 district police officials, some of whom were armed.

“We asked the district police chief [for the reason] but he only said that he would not let us go. He said that he got an order to stop us and he just walked away,” he said.

District Police Chief Hun Sok Hun denied villagers’ allegations that the police stopped them, saying that they were merely making way for a convoy of unspecified “delegates”.

Another villager, Im Kong, 33, claimed that 571 families lost a total of 1,280 hectares of rice fields and 754 hectares of other farmland to the company in 2010 following the granting of the concession.

He also claimed that no proper compensation or other solutions were offered to villagers.In an email yesterday, the managing director of the company, Nhak Seng, expressed doubt about Kong’s estimate of land lost, saying “2,000 hectares of farming land is an unbelievable figure”.

He added that the company is willing to seek a solution with the villagers.

“The people that bring the petition are [representing] who? Do they have the authorised letter from Thbong villagers? If yes, our company [is] pleased to meet up with them and discuss any issue together and find the solution together,” he wrote.