Twenty-two families who have been locked in a bitter, seven-year dispute over 145 hectares of land in Kompong Chhnang province with a company owned by the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem claim they were illegally pressured into accepting compensation and filed a court complaint Monday to demand their agreement with the company be nullified.
In April, 32 families from Ta Ches commune in Kompong Tralach district accepted a compensation deal with the KDC company, which is owned by Mr. Sem’s wife Chea Kheng, after the provincial government established a joint committee with the company to try and settle the dispute.
But now most of the families are saying they were forced to do so and, having lost all faith in the provincial court, came to Phnom Penh on Monday to file a complaint with the municipal court claiming the compensation is not worth the land that they lost.
Keo Vannak, 52, said she was given just $1,500 for the 3.5 hectares of land she lost to the development.
“Since the compensation was made with threats, most of the villagers took the small amount of money, because it came with force,” she said.
“I had to accept it since Ms. Kheng intimidated me, saying that I would face a lawsuit and would be ordered to pay 40 million riel [$9,800] to the company if I keep protesting and suing the company for grabbing our land, which we have farmed since the 1980s,” she said.
About 70 other villagers, who say they are in the same predicament, joined her at the court. The group then filed a petition with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet before going to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to make a similar appeal for help from U.N. human rights envoy Surya Subedi.
Kompong Tralach district governor Hul Chanthor said the group has no evidence to prove their ownership of the land, despite having farmed there for decades.
“The money paid to them was nothing to do with the land being purchased, it was company’s kindness to them,” he said. “Nobody intimidated villagers to accept it.”