‘Land Grabs’ Mar Cambodia’s Boom, Rattle Investors

Phnom Penh–Kong Song’s farmland was his family’s livelihood for three decades until the bulldozers moved in and tore down his home in rural Cambodia to make way for a multimillion dollar foreign-led business. His family was one of 253 forcibly evicted five years ago in southern Koh Kong province to accommodate a $90.6 million sugar project by a firm lured by duty-free exports to the European Union that were designed to help the world’s poorest countries. This is the flip side of a foreign investment boom in which the rich and powerful cash in at the expense of what rights groups estimate is about 30,000 Cambodians forcibly evicted from their homes a year. The evictions and so-called “land grabs” have angered donors, putting at stake hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid as well as a trade scheme that gives Cambodian produce tariff-free access to the European Union. Kong Song is fighting back. He and his neighbours have filed a lawsuit against the Koh Kong Sugar Industry Ltd, a joint venture with Thailand’s Khon Kaen Sugar and Taiwan’s Vewong Corporation. But, as with most legal challenges against Cambodia’s business elite, it has gone nowhere. “We’re demanding that Cambodia’s development is development for all, not the kind that makes its people shed tears,” Kong Song said during a visit to the capital Phnom Penh. Neither Koh Kong Sugar nor Khon Kaen Sugar responded to interview requests when contacted by Reuters.