Koh Kong Province Launches Investigation into Land Claims by Villagers

Local officials in Koh Kong province yesterday visited families in Sre Ambel district’s Chi Khor Krom commune who are involved in a land dispute with the agricultural firm Heng Huy Company to examine their claims to land ownership.

Kong Sovann, deputy secretary-general for the provincial government, said officials from the district and commune as well as from the district cadastral office had already collected land documents from 15 families in the area.

“Tomorrow our committee will field investigations and meet with other families because it is very important to know the size that each family lives on,” he said.

He added that the purpose of the investigation was to discover if the families had legal documentation of their ownership claims and if the documents recovered so far were copied and “not original.”

On Friday more than 170 villagers blocked off National Road 48 before armed forces, including police, military police and company workers, forcibly pushed protestors back.

The land dispute, which according to human rights groups dates back to 2007, flared up nearly two weeks ago as around 40 families in the commune confronted Heng Huy Company bulldozers after they cleared an 11-by-100-meter strip of farmland the villagers claim is their property.

Phav Nhoeung, a representative for 33 families in the disputed area, said the investigation into the disputed land was a good sign.

“But we are not one hundred percent sure we will get a transparent resolution,” she added, noting that not all families in the area have firm land titles.

Ouch Leng, monitor for human rights group Adhoc, said that the investigation was not motivated by a desire to resolve the dispute fairly. Rather, downward pressure from senior officials as well as heightened public awareness had spurred the government to action, he claimed.

“Actually the authorities in the province don’t pay attention to the matter. They [were] quite aware of the violence and the land clearance committed by the company,” he said.


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