Families Claim Intimidation in Land Dispute

Twelve families locked in a land dispute in Kampot province blocked a construction company on Wednesday from dumping earth onto fields they maintain are theirs, villagers and a rights worker said Thursday.

The villagers say the company began encroaching on their land in 2011, when they bought a number of adjoining plots.

Since then, the 12 families who declined to sell to the Van Vanna company in Kompong Tralach district say they have faced difficulty in obtaining the necessary proof that the land is legally theirs.

“We have lived and waited for the land management department to give us a land title, but now I heard that the company got it,” said villager Kang Hav, 68. “The company has been trying to take my land for a long time—whenever I plant a coconut tree, they take it out.”

On Wednesday, the company arrived with several trucks of earth but left after villagers blocked their way, said Yun Phally, a investigator at local rights group Licadho.

“I went and asked the commune chief, but he said that he didn’t know why the company was trying to prove to the people that they had a land title,” he said.

According to Mr. Phally, the company tried to buy the one-hectare plot of land from the 12 families for $40,000 but they refused.

Vuth Vattana, director of the provincial inter-sector office, said the company had the rights to develop at least part of the area for years.

“The Van Vanna Company has had permission to develop for a long time, but regarding the land dispute between the company and the 12 families, I don’t know if the company has a land title or not,” he said.

In March, the Van Vanna company filed a complaint claiming that the families had behaved violently and prevented them from working. In April, the families then filed a counter-complaint saying the company had illegally encroached on their land, according to Licadho.

“The company has been threatening us, saying that if we do not give our land to them, they will dump dirt on our land even though we’ve lived here for a long time,” he said.

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