Families Blocked From Fencing Disputed Land

About a dozen Tuol Kok district security guards in Phnom Penh on Tuesday blocked three families involved in a long-running land dispute from building a fence around the disputed property in Boeng Kak I commune, an official said.

Deputy district governor Saing Sopheak Vichet said the families did not have the right to erect a barrier around the land, which the Khun Sear Import and Export Company also claims.

“The land is still in dispute and if the other side can’t build a fence, then you cannot build a fence and it is wrong if you try to do so,” Mr. Sopheak Vichet told family members during a visit to the land.

Mak Siv Hong, 51, said her family only wanted to build a fence to protect themselves from harm following the latest in a series of violent attacks by representatives of the company. On Saturday, about 20 thugs armed with sticks and samurai-style swords caused damage to her home.

“I am traumatized and have high blood pressure because of the attacks,” she said, pleading for district authorities to protect her and her relatives from what she said appeared to be attempts to kill them.

In response, Mr. Sopheak Vichet pledged that the family would not be harmed and that he would try his best to resolve the dispute.

“I will protect your safety and security so don’t worry, I will help you,” he told the family.

The company’s owner, Khun Sear, is accused of trying to force the families off the land after they refused an offer of $15,000 in compensation for land he acquired in a swap deal with City Hall. He plans to build a multi-story supermarket on the land.

He has a politically connected business partner: Yim Leang, who heads the bodyguard unit of Senate president Chea Sim. Mr. Leang has said the families have no legal claim to the property, while they have accused him of orchestrating the campaign of intimidation.

“I have longtime connection with Oknha Khun Sear as a business partner, and he asked me to help him with this case,” Mr. Leang said. “He has both the land title and rental contracts [proving the families leased the land from the local authorities].”

Mr. Leang rebuffed any suggestion he was involved in threats or violent attacks against the families.

“I don’t care what they say,” he said. “Let them say what they want to say.”

(Additional reporting by Eang Mengleng)

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