Companies Squabble, Villagers Protest in Kandal

A company that villagers say owns land that was illegally grabbed from them in Kandal province asked more than 100 residents of Ponhea Leu commune to leave the firm out of their dispute and focus their ire on Phanimex, which is owned by powerful businesswoman Suy Sophan.

More than 100 residents of Tuol Ampil village, some of whom were questioned in court throughout last week over the land dispute, protested Sunday on the 63 hectares of land in question. They demanded that Lai Heang, owner of the Lai Ngi company, return their farmland.

But Chhay Sok Hour, a representative of Ms. Heang, said that the firm no longer owned the land and suggested that they aim their anger at development company Phanimex.

“Ms. Lai Heang is no longer involved with the land case and we told those families to find a solution with Ms. Suy Sophan,” he said Sunday, referring to the owner of Phanimex.

Mr. Sok Hour said Ms. Heang purchased the 63 hectares of land from Ms. Sophan for $200,000 in 2013, but had the money refunded after a dispute arose over the size of the land.

Although Mr. Sok Hour claims the deal for the land was revoked, Ms. Heang’s name was still listed on the ownership documents, according to Ponhea Leu commune chief Yu Phat, who said Ms. Sophan had provided villagers with copies of the documents showing Ms. Heang’s ownership of the disputed land.

“People demanded Ms. Lai Heang return their farmland because they were confused when Ms. Suy Sophan said Ms. Lai Heang still owns the farmland,” Mr. Phat said.

Ms. Sophan could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Dozens of villagers from Ponhea Leu commune protested outside the provincial court last week as a number of villagers, including Mr. Phat, the commune chief, were questioned over a court complaint filed by Phanimex claiming that 12 families illegally blocked a road and removed demarcation posts as part of their protest against the alleged land grab.

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