More than 60 Battambang province villagers traveled to Phnom Penh this week to lodge complaints at the National Assembly on Monday and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence on Thursday over a land dispute in Kors Kralor district.
Around 148 families are mired in the dispute with Lim Tea Leng, a Ministry of Interior official, as well as Uon Sakun and Hem Heourn, both Military Region 5 officials, over 1,000 hectares of land in Preah Phos commune, said Chhim Savuth, a Cambodian Center for Human Rights investigator.
Chhuk Rus Sareoun, a representative of the villagers, said the families have been living and farming on the land since 1997. It wasn’t until 2007 that Lim Tea Leng claimed to have bought the land several years prior, he said.
“We complained to him, but there was no solution,” he said.
Lim Tea Leng, however, denies the villagers’ allegations, saying he obtained 600 hectares of the land legally in 1998 and has the papers to prove it.
“One hectare cost $80…. Our country has law. If I do anything, I always contact local authorities,” he said, adding that he allowed the villagers to remain on his land while he wasn’t using it and even donated 2 hectares to 43 poor families.
Uon Sakun and Hem Heourn could not be reached for comment this week.
Preah Phos commune chief Kok Kiv admitted that the 600 hectares rightfully belong to Lim Tea Leng, but he added that he would like the two parties to reach a compromise and share the land.
“The villagers should get some land,” he said.
Lim Tea Leng, who declined to disclose what position he holds at the Interior Ministry, also said he had complained to provincial officials about six villagers who were causing unrest in relation to the dispute.
Five villagers have been charged with damaging property, said Sun Tek, provincial coordinator of local rights group Licadho.
The five were scheduled to be questioned in court on Thursday, but the interview was postponed to an unknown date in future due to the fact that the villagers were in Phnom Penh to protest, he said.
A sixth villager, Chan Hoeun, was arrested and has been in detention for two weeks, Sun Tek added.
Ith Samphas, Battambang Provincial Court investigating judge, said he couldn’t comment while the case was being investigated.
SRP lawmaker Cheam Channy, deputy chairman of the National Assembly human rights commission, said Thursday that he was unaware of the case, but that it would likely take some time to investigate and to find a suitable solution.
(Additional reporting by Pin Sisovann)
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