K Chhnang Villagers in Land Dispute Go Hungry

Kompong Chhnang province villagers who six months ago asked to temporarily farm on disputed land claimed by KDC development–a company owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Minister for Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem–have received no response to their pleas, villagers and a rights worker said yesterday.

Reach Sema, who represents 64 families in Lor Peang village, said residents filed a request to provincial governor Touch Marim in May asking to temporarily grow rice on 145 hectares of disputed land in Kompong Tralach district’s Taches commune because they had no land left to farm on.

“Almost six months have passed, with no response from the provincial governor about whether he allows or disagrees with our suggestion to temporarily farm,” he said.

“Authorities in the province, including the provincial governor, seem under pressure from Chumteav Chea Kheng,” he said.

“That is why those officials keep quiet and dare not decide to allow us to farm on the land.”

Repeated calls to Mr Marim, the governor, and Men Koeun, president of the provincial council, went unanswered yesterday.

“Even if these people file their suggestion ten times, the governors in the province dare not permit them to farm our company’s land,” said Phat Pao Sieng, an attorney for KDC Development.

He said his clients had “sufficient documents for legal ownership” of 214 hectares of land in Taches commune bought by the company in 2007.

However villagers claim they sold just 69 hectares of their 214 hectares to a local businessman in 1996, according to Pheng Rom, another community representative. One year later they found that all their farmland was occupied by Ms Kheng’s company.

Mr Rom and Mr Sema, along with the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, Sam Chankea, were sued by KDC in June for disinformation and defamation over their comments on the company’s alleged wrongdoing.

Because villagers have no other means of making a living, almost 80 percent of the younger villagers have crossed the border into Thailand illegally to look for work, with many ending up on fishing boats, Mr Rom said.

Community representative Mr Sema said three of his siblings have already gone to work in Thailand.

“I wanted to leave for migrant work to earn income too, but I have been sued by this company which is why I cannot go,” he said.

“We can’t farm on the land so we don’t have rice to eat,” he added.


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