Villagers and a powerful businessman with competing titles to land in Battambang province appeared on Friday at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh, which ruled in favor of the tycoon, who proceeded to order the villagers off his land immediately, the villagers said.
Representatives for 312 families faced off with property magnate and oknha Song Thorn in the court, where they presented a title granted to them in 2012 and signed by village and commune chiefs.
Mr. Thorn also presented documents showing that he had in 1997 purchased 612 hectares of land, upon which the families are now living, leading to Judge Sin Visal’s ruling.
“The Appeal Court ruled against us. It is an injustice,” said Chhut Mao, 68, one of 11 people representing the 312 families in the court Friday.
“The Oknha told us that after the verdict we have to move off the land, but we will not move,” he said.
Contacted by phone, Judge Visal declined to comment on the case.
The 312 families moved onto the land in 2004, they said, and began to clear what they say was impenetrable forest that stretched across Bavel and Malai districts.
“I lived there since the forest was thick and very hard to get to. Only now that we have cut away the bamboo they want to take the land,” Mr. Mao said.
In 2006, according to Mr. Mao, Mr. Thorn began to clear and construct a fence around the land, to the surprise of the villagers.
After the villagers protested, Mr. Thorn pulled back but in 2012 returned with an injunction from the Battambang Provincial Court stating that he had the right to the land.
The villagers then took the complaint to the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh asking that the injunction be annulled and waited two years for their day in court.
Battambang Governor Chan Sophal said Friday that the land title the villagers possessed did not give them ownership to the Mr. Thorn’s land, as it should have been approved by authorities at the provincial level.
“It is hard to find a resolution for them because their land title is from commune and village level,” he said. “In 2004, they just moved to live on land that might have belonged to someone else.”