A representative of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cabinet yesterday advised 163 families involved in a long-running land dispute with a businesswoman in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district to seek the Justice Ministry’s expertise after the Agriculture Ministry said on Wednesday it had swapped the contested plot with a construction firm in 2009.
Local authorities were preparing to divide the nearly one-hectare parcel of land between the families, who won a long-running court battle against local businesswoman Keo Neam, when the Agriculture Ministry’s letter arrived.
Kong Chamroeun, secretary of Mr. Hun Sen’s Cabinet, met more than 10 representatives of the families on Friday near the prime minister’s villa, telling them that the letter had complicated matters.
“This is complex case. It is not a normal problem, so another petition should be prepared for delivery to the Justice Ministry,” he told the villagers.
The Agriculture Ministry’s letter claimed that the ministry had exchanged 11,701 square meters of land with the Kim Hap Company, which built a new machinery department building for the ministry in return.
Pring Socheat, who handed over the petition, said the letter’s sudden arrival after all these years was deeply worrying.
“The district governor told us the letter was not important and not to worry, but I am too worried to wait even one more day without our land,” she said.
On Thursday, Agriculture Ministry spokesman Lor Reaksmey said the ministry had given the disputed land to the Kim Hap company as part of the swap. But yesterday, he stressed that the rightful owner of the plot remained unclear.
“I did not say whose land it was—I only said that the ministry has asked for it to be looked at again, since it had belonged to the machinery department, but that was a long time ago,” Mr. Reaksmey said.
“The land that the villagers and the Kim Hap company are in protest over—if it is the plot that the villagers were living on, then that means it is their land, because the land that was managed by the machinery department had no villagers living on it when it was given to the Kim Hap company by land title,” he added.
“Why would we have given land to the company that had 163 families living on it?”
But because the swap occurred years ago, he said the ministry saw it fit to ask the municipal court to delay officially demarcating the land until it reviewed previous transactions and ensured that the land was ultimately given to its rightful owner.
“There is nothing corrupt about this request, the ministry has made no decision. It has simply acted on a complaint filed by the [Kim Hap] company just last week,” he said.