K Chhnang families in dispute say running out of food

Villagers in Kompong Chhnang province said yesterday 64 families feared food shortages next year as they were now unable to grow rice on 145 hectares of land that is the subject of a longstanding court battle with company.

Two villagers were also questioned by provincial police on Friday over a complaint lodged in the dispute by a representative of KDC Development–a firm owned by Chea Keng, the wife of Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem.

Villagers say that in 1996 they sold 69 of their 214 hectares in Kompong Tralach district’s Ta Ches commune to businessman Thay Hy, only to discover a year later that he had sold the land to KDC, which claimed the other 145 hectares as well.

Villagers Pov Rom, 45, and Reach Sema, 30, were questioned Friday over a May complaint filed by Mr Hy, now a representative for KDC, according to deputy provincial police chief Prak Vuthy.

The complaint accuses the pair of “defamation” and “prevention of the company’s development process,” according to Mr Rom. Villagers have only been able to farm a small portion of the disputed land since armed guards for KDC blocked access beginning in 2007, Mr Rom said.

“We just eat a little rice to cook with corn for eating now,” he said. “Other families just eat cooked corn without cooked rice.”

Ouch Leng, monitor for local rights group Adhoc, said the villagers’ situation is worsening.

“The government and provincial authorities should intervene and allow villagers to temporarily cultivate rice during the rainy season on that land,” he said. “Otherwise villagers will definitely face critical rice shortages in the near future.”

Mr Hy, the seller of the land, said by telephone that he had been asked by the company to stand in as complainant.

“The accusation was written by the company’s lawyers,” he said, referring further questions to KDC company lawyer Phat Pao Sieng, who could not be reached.


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