Court Picks Up Land Dispute Involving Senator

The Kompong Speu Provincial Court has summoned for trial a married couple accused of encroaching on land excised from a plantation belonging to CPP Senator and businessman Ly Yong Phat, and has issued more than two dozen other summonses and arrest warrants in the past month for villagers involved in disputes with the sugar magnate, a community representative said.

Khim Srey Pov and her husband Puth Yoeun are accused of illegally occupying a plot of land along Road 52 in Thpong district’s Omlaing commune that once belonged to Mr. Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar Company. They are among dozens of local families accused of encroachment on land along the road since 2010.

Ms. Srey Pov said she was summoned for trial last week. She denied the charge of encroachment and said she and her husband had been living on and working the disputed land since 2002, well before the government granted Mr. Yong Phat the area in 2010.

Though a 10-hectare area was cut out of the concession in 2010 for the families, the dispute has persisted and after laying dormant for most of this year, it picked up again in the past few months with several court actions, said Phal Vannak, a representative for the families.

In addition to setting a trial for Ms. Srey Pov and her husband, he said, the court has issued arrest warrants for nine of them and summoned 19 more for questioning since November.

Although the allegations against them have been filed with the court by unknown individuals, he said any of the defendants who choose to settle the dispute for money have had to negotiate with representatives of Phnom Penh Sugar, raising concerns that the company was suing them by proxy.

“We have to negotiate and take money from the sugar company’s representatives if we want to end the court cases, so it means the sugar company has used a bad trick by hiring someone to sue us,” Mr. Vannak said.

Provincial court Judge Iv Borin confirmed having summoned Ms. Srey Pov and her husband, but said he had not been responsible for the other summonses and could not comment. He said a trial against the couple, originally scheduled for this week, had been postponed.

Chheang Kim Sun, a representative for Phnom Penh Sugar, denied the firm had any role in suing the families but confirmed it was buying up their land. “We don’t sue any villagers,” she said. “We have purchased some land from the legal owners, but we are not land grabbing.”

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