Koh Kong Land Dispute Case Delayed Again

The Koh Kong Provincial Court yesterday postponed the hearing of a controversial case against a Thai-owned sugar company that more than 200 families alleged had taken their land for the company’s sugar plantations, lawyers and village representatives said yesterday.

Ny Sorphornneary, the lawyer for the families, said the court’s presiding judge had decided to postpone the trial because 15 people had recently withdrawn their complaints and the lawyers for the company were not present. She added that they should have been informed about the Koh Kong Su­gar’s lawyers’ absence.

“I think the postponement of the trial really affects the communities and their living conditions…. When they come to Koh Kong, they need to collect money to hire a car, so they’ve spent a lot of money and they have gotten no result again,” said Ms. Sorphornneary.

“This is a big case and a complicated case so that’s why [the judge] says he needs time to re­view it, but he’s taken about two years ago to study the case al­ready,” she added.

At issue is more than 2,000 hectares of land in Sre Ambel district’s Chi Khor Loeu commune, which Koh Kong Sugar Industry and its partner company—previously connected to CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat before he sold off his shares—had taken in a land concession in 2006. The 220 affected families filed a complaint in February 2007, but delays as well as unsuccessful negotiations for a settlement have plagued the process.

An Haiya, a village representative, said that the 15 villagers were given $2,000 to withdraw their com­plaint in June and July.

“We understand that they might have been frightened or concerned of something bad happening to their family members,” said Mr. Haiya, adding that he was nevertheless very sad that the trial is being delayed yet again.

Touch Chhay, Koh Kong Sugar’s lawyer, confirmed he had requested a trial postponement “last week” as he had urgent work overseas, and declined to comment on the villagers’ compensation. Presiding Judge Heng Kesarou could not be reached for comment.

After hearing about the delay, more than 200 villagers protested outside the courthouse. Yuos Em, 48, who lost 4.5 hectares of her cashew plantation to the company, said she traveled for a day-and-a-half to get to the court.

“The court doesn’t care how much the poor people have suffered from losing their farmland and now we have no options left to make a living,” said Ms. Em.

This postponement also comes a day after the National Human Rights Commission in Thailand (NHRC)—a government body tasked with investigating human rights violations—released preliminary findings that Thai firm Khon Kaen Sugar Industry had “breached” human rights principles. Khon Kaen has a 70 percent stake in the Koh Kong sugar company.

“We identified breaches of the right to life and self-determination, in particular. [The NHRC] also identified a failure to uphold the people’s right to development,” said Dr. Niran Pitakwatchara, the NHRC’s commissioner, in the statement.

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