Khieu Kanharith Requests Help in Land Dispute

Information Minister Khieu Kan­harith has asked officials in Koh Kong province’s Kompong Seila district to evict more than 80 people who have encroached on his 554-hectare farm, officials said Sunday.

The farm, which was awarded to Khieu Kanharith by provincial of­­ficials in 1999 for development purposes, has pitted the minister against a Sam Rainsy Party commune chief who accused the minister’s representative of using guards to threaten residents on the disputed land.

Doek Hou, Kompong Seila district governor, said that a handful of people living on the land were compensated by Khieu Kanharith when he began developing the area in 1999. But since last year ma­­ny more people have en­croach­ed on the land and have be­­gun clear-cutting the forest, Doek Hou said.

“These are not the real [residents]. They are businessmen…. This is the mistake of [Khieu Kan­harith] because he did not prevent the people from settling in the beginning,” Doek Hou said.

But Khieu Kanharith lashed out on Sunday at those laying claim to his farm.

“If they are real [residents] I will give them some land for them to farm and live there. But these are not villagers. They are businessmen who always try to make problems with land in other provinces,” Khieu Kanharith said.

“They rob my land and now they protest to take my land,” he added.

Yim Sopheap, a Sam Rainsy Par­ty member in Koh Kong said Sunday that the disputed land is located in O’Bak Rotes commune, which is administered by op­­position party commune Chief Chin Sophal.

“Eighty-seven people are living in that area since 1996. The problem is that the people did not complain at the beginning, but Khieu Kanharith’s representative threatened the commune chief ordering him to force those people off that land,” Yim Sopheap said.

Leang Bunrith, who went to Koh Kong to represent the minister, said Sunday that he had only led the guards to stop people us­ing a mechanized digger to clear for­est on the disputed land.

“I will let local authorities decide on this case,” Khieu Kanharith said.


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