Extra Forces Dispatched as KDC Walls Off Land

A company owned by the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem, with the backing of a mounting police force, pushed ahead Tuesday with walling off a swath of land in Kompong Chhnang province that has been at the center of a seven-year land dispute, which has erupted into violence three times in the past four days.

With about 150 police looking on, some 400 workers continued to put up a more than 2-meter-high concrete wall around the 145 hectares of disputed land in Kompong Tralach district’s Ta Ches commune, which will make the area inaccessible to families living in the community, many of whom have farmed the land for decades.

“Today, the workers were able to resume building the fence after there was no objection from villagers who clashed with our workers repeatedly over the weekend and yesterday,” said Sin Khim, 28, a KDC employee who is in charge of construction at the site.

Though villagers have said that the workers sent in to construct the wall have provoked violent episodes in recent days, using slingshots with metal pellets and bows with wooden arrows against villagers, Mr. Khim blamed the villagers for the violence.

“The confrontations occurred just because of the villagers. If they don’t show up in front of our bulldozer and excavator, attempting to stop our land clearance, then no violence would ever have happened,” he said.

In 2007, more than 100 families filed a complaint against Chea Kheng, KDC’s owner and the wife of Mr. Sem, for allegedly grabbing their land. About half of those families held out for years until a special commission was set up by KDC in March to resolve outstanding disputes. Under pressure from the company and local officials to accept a deal or get nothing, all but 16 families agreed to compensation.

This month, Ms. Kheng’s company has pressed ahead with walling off the land, though it is unclear what it will be used for.

Commune police chief Chuop Chanthoeun said he did not know how long police would be stationed in the community, where they are ostensibly positioned to maintain the peace.

“It’s been so calm today, because villagers did not start any violence with the forces or go on the land to stop the company’s workers,” he said.

On Monday, police attempted to enter the home of Oum Sophy, an outspoken villager representative who is wanted by police. Police backed off when villagers resisted and threatened them with petrol bombs.

Ms. Sophy said police were only meant to intimidate villagers and allow Ms. Kheng’s development to go ahead.

“Their presence means nothing for us in terms of security, because they are not going to help villagers if we confront the company’s workers,” she said.

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