The Kompong Chhnang Provincial Court yesterday once again declined to receive a joint complaint from villagers in Kompong Tralach district embroiled in a land dispute with the wife of Industry Minister Suy Sem.
Chhuon Siven, provincial clerk director, said that the court could not take the complaint from the 37 villagers of Lor Peang village since it was filed jointly and has advised the villagers to file it again individually.
“The court has denied to receive the complaint. We gave them the opportunity to file the complaint again,” he said.
The villagers are claiming that Chea Kheang and her firm KDC Development Co illegally forged 105 land titles covering property from 51 families over 145 hectares of land in the province in an ongoing dispute dating back to 2007.
The court also turned away a joint complaint by the villagers early last year for the same reason, but expensive court fees meant that only a few of the families were ever able to follow through.
Chan Soveth, a deputy chief of monitoring at rights group Adhoc, said that even if villagers could afford to file individual complaints, a segmented case would weaken the collective cause.
“The court should receive the villagers’ complaint to deny KDC’s land titles and take action to investigate the case and provide justice to the villagers,” he said.
Reach Seima, a 31-year-old village representative, denied that villagers ever had business dealings with KDC.
“We deny [the land titles by] KDC Development Co because we never sold the land to the company; the company grabbed the villagers’ land,” he said. “I think that the court is scared by powerful people standing behind the minister’s wife.”
The trial involving Kompong Chhnang province villagers and Ms. Kheang over the long-standing dispute began last month, even as the lawyers of the villagers were unable to attend the opening statements. Villagers are demanding their land be returned along with compensation for the damages.