Courts Resurrect Land Disputes After Election

The Kompong Chhnang Provincial Court has summoned for questioning three villagers accused of torching in May a shed on disputed land granted to the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem.

The case is another example of courts resurrecting longstanding land disputes that had gone dormant around the time of July’s national election, local human rights group Adhoc said Wednesday.

Chuop Chanthoeun, Ta Ches commune police chief in Kompong Tralach district, said Yoem Ngoeun, Phul San and Reach Seima have all been summoned to answer questions at the court tomorrow in their long-running dispute with KDC International, a firm belonging to Chea Kheng, the wife of Minister Suy Sem.

Mr. Seima said Wednesday that 51 families were accusing KDC of stealing a total 145 hectares of their land. He said all planned to attend their questioning tomorrow, accompanies by lawyers provided by human rights NGOs.

“Before the election, the court did not summon us for questioning because the [ruling] CPP wanted the courts not to hurt people beforehand since they didn’t want to hurt their vote count,” he said, expressing a common sentiment. “Now that the elections are over, the courts are being used again to threaten us.”

In another example, the Battambang Provincial Court has summoned a Kors Kralor district villager, Sun Ra, to a hearing today in a years-old land dispute that currently pits about 50 families against several military police officers, said Sam Oeun, a representative for the families.

Mr. Oeun said that Mr. Ra has been accused of intentionally injuring one of the officers but insisted he was innocent and, like the families disputing land in Kompong Chhnang, believed the court had taken a break during the elections for political reasons.

Pen Bonnar, a senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, said the new post-election summonses appeared to be a trend.

“Before the elections, land disputes were so calm,” he said. “After the elections, more and more villagers have been summoned for questioning, so the court system is being used again to put pressure on land protesters.”

In yet another case, the Kompong Speu Provincial Court on Tuesday summoned two villagers involved in a yearslong dispute over land that recently belonged to CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat, but has suspended the questioning because court officials were busy.

As with the other cases, the court has issued dozens of summonses and arrest warrants for the families since November after ignoring the case for several months.

Justice Ministry officials could not be reached for comment on the alleged link between the ruling CPP’s electioneering and the courts pursuing sensitive land cases.

Kompong Speu court president Khlot Pich, however, denied any political calculation in the timing of the court’s business.

“I’m not sure how many people have been summoned, but there is no political motivation in when we summon them for questioning,” he said.

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