Bittersweet End Nears for Embattled Land Dispute Family

From his shack on the edge of a busy junction in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district Monday, 58-year-old Ly Sreang Kheng threw a rock at his feet and shook his head at the thought of a condominium stabbing the skyline on land he has spent years fighting for.

“I am very sad to lose my home, I have owned it for a long time. The others had no documents, as I have,” he said, referring to former neighbors who took compensation years ago and moved away.

Mok Siv Hong packs away belongings at her family's home in Phnom Penh's Tuol Kok district on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Mok Siv Hong packs away belongings at her family’s home in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Last month, with his daughter in prison over the land dispute with tycoon Khun Sear, Mr. Sreang Kheng and his family finally struck a deal to take compensation for the plot. But he said it was an agreement forced upon them.

“Yes we agreed to it,” he said. “But we should not have had to agree to it.”

Mr. Sreang Kheng claims to have lived on the plot of land since 1979. For years, local government and CPP offices loomed over his corrugated house, but the land was swapped with the Khun Sear Import Export Company in 2010.

In the five years since, the family endured a campaign of intimidation—waged by thugs allegedly hired by Mr. Sear’s eponymous company—for refusing to accept $15,000 compensation to move.

Under the country’s Land Law, Mr. Sreang Kheng was legally entitled to own the land, having occupied it for more than five years prior to 2001. His efforts to obtain the papers have been in vain, however, and the municipal court has sided with Mr. Sear as the dispute has dragged on.

In March, the family’s resistance was finally broken as they accepted a compensation offer to vacate the property. At the time, Mr. Sreang Kheng said he had conceded defeat, but not for the money. He said he hoped to secure the release of his daughter, 23-year-old Ly Seav Minh, who had been in prison since November after the company pressed charges following a scuffle with its security guards.

Choung Choungy, the family’s lawyer, said Monday that the final deal was agreed to after Ms. Seav Minh was released from prison, and that her jailing was not a factor in the family’s decision.

“They agreed to accept compensation because the mother and daughter had tried pursuing this through the courts and decided that prolonging the case would mean waiting longer, but still getting the same [result],” he said.

He added that a final settlement figure of $180,000 had been agreed to two weeks ago, with $50,000 paid upon signing and the remaining $130,000 to be paid on their departure from the property, planned for May 20.

Mr. Khun Sear could not be reached Monday. But his business partner, Yim Leang, confirmed the deal.

“Yes, we gave them compensation,” he said. “You should go ask the family how much money it was.”

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