Families Locked In Seven-Year Land Dispute Accept Cash

After a seven-year land battle with a company owned by  the wife of a senior government official, 38 families accepted money Friday in Kompong Chhnang province, effectively ending a dispute over 145 hectares.

The 38 families were summoned Friday by a 15-member committee established by the government to help resolve the land dispute. Family representatives say they reluctantly decided to settle. 

The families, living in Ta Ches commune’s Lor Peang village, had been fighting since 2007 with the KDC International Co., which is owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Suy Sem, Minister of Mines and Energy.

The total amount of cash offered to all the families was not made public. Some told reporters on Friday that they received $6,000.

The families accused Ms. Kheng of land grabbing. The case had been repeatedly dropped or dismissed by the provincial court and by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. As a result, the families gave up their legal battle and decided to take the money.

“I forcibly accepted the money because, first, I am so tired of the court system for not taking action in the dispute. Second, the rich lady who owns the company promised that she would develop the land into a special economic zone and employ our children,” said Pheng Rom, one of the family representatives, who took $6,000 for two hectares of his land.

Chap Batt, 71, who sued Ms. Kheng last year and lost, said she received $500 to end the dispute over a 3,000-square-meter plot of land. “I am very old now and I know the court system will never rule in favor of the poor, so I accepted the money for losing my land to this rich and powerful company,” she said.

The outcome of Friday’s meeting with the committee comes after meetings last month between the families and Ms. Kheng and her attorney, Phat Pauv Seng, failed to reach an agreement. During those meetings, Ms. Kheng and Mr. Seng told the families they had not provided enough evidence that they owned the land.

Mr. Seng on Friday confirmed an agreement was reached to

pay the families, but declined to elaborate.

“Now we are doing it,” he said in reference to paying money to the families.

Chan Soveth, a senior investigator at the rights group Adhoc who had been monitoring the dispute, said Friday that the families took the money because there was no other option.

“Since villagers have no other option, most of them agreed and accepted the money to end the dispute because authorities from all levels are on the company’s side,” he said.

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