Kandal Officials Measure Land Claimed by NGO

kien svay district, Kandal prov­ince – Land management officials measured the disputed land claimed by Phanimex, the NGO Sovann Komar and local villagers in Veal Sbov commune Thurs­day, but said they had come to no conclusions regarding ownership.

Phanimex, Sovann Komar and dozens of families have made overlapping claims to the land, and officials, reaching as far as the Council of Ministers, have signed documents seeking a resolution to the dispute.

Kandal Land Management De­partment Deputy Director Suong Sambokhemra said Thurs­day that the land had been measured but that it was too early to issue a conclusion.

Villagers interviewed at the disputed land on Thursday alleged that Phanimex Director Suy So­phan was grabbing both their land and land they had legitimately sold to Sovann Komar, or “Gol­den Children,” which was founded by US healthcare giant John­son & Johnson heiress Eliza­beth Ross Johnson.

The NGO is planning to build a multi-million-dollar school for or­phans on the disputed site.

Lawyer Suy Chhun Hak, who is representing Sovann Komar, said that Suy Sophan has presented two land titles bearing Chinese names that claim ownership over 6.5 of the 7 hectares that the NGO bought from the villagers.

Veal Sbov Deputy Commune Chief Sot Say said that he was paid $52,000 for his share of the disputed land, out of a total of $500,000 paid to 17 families by Sovann Ko­mar in return for the land.

Signs announcing the villagers’ land sale to the NGO were posted from Feb 14 until the contract was signed on March 24, but no­body questioned the deal, Sot Say said.

Suy Sophan will appear in court on Nov 4 to answer charges of land grabbing and destruction of property lodged by the NGO.

Suy Sophan reiterated her claim to the land on Thursday and accused the villagers of grabbing her land and illegally selling it to the NGO.

“I gave them much money in 1994 to buy their land, but finally they grabbed my land for their own personal interest. I spent much money to buy that land and that is why I have to seek justice for myself,” she said by telephone on Thursday.

More than 30 villagers at the site acknowledge that they sold al­most 5 hectares of the land to Suy Sophan a decade ago, but al­lege that she has recently grab­bed more of their land, totaling 13 hectares.

Both sides have compiled an im­­pressive array of documents signed by senior officials in support of their respective claims.

An Aug 15 letter signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s older brother Hun San asks the Kandal provincial governor to have land re­­turned to 56 families who are disputing Suy Sophan’s land claim.

Villager and representative of the 56 families, Pao Vanna, also showed copies of documents signed by National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ran­ariddh, Deputy President Heng Samrin and CPP parliamentarian Khieu San asking the Justice Min­­istry and the provincial courts and governor to investigate the dispute.

An Aug 8 letter written by Suy Sophan to National Police Com­missioner Hok Lundy, ac­cusing the villagers of land grabbing, contains handwritten in­struc­tions at the bottom ordering Phnom Penh and Kandal provincial po­lice to solve the matter.

“It’s like at a theater,” Suong Sambokhemra said of the case. “If there are 50 seats and you sell 51, you have a problem.”

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