The National Assembly’s human rights commission has begun meeting individually with villagers locked in a long-running land dispute in Kompong Chhnang province, sparking concerns that the process could force some families to accept inadequate compensation packages.
For the past 12 years, families from Lor Peang village in Kompong Chhnang have been feuding with KDC International—owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem—over 145 hectares of land.
On Monday, the chairman of the human rights commission, CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang, met with six of the families in Phnom Penh, a move that the outspoken Lor Peang representative Oum Sophy said demonstrated the commission’s sinister aims.
“This commission is trying to split our community because they contacted and met with villagers secretly and did not inform me as the villagers’ representative,” Ms. Sophy said.
Her accusation comes after 38 families agreed to accept compensation from KDC in March, following the creation of a special committee tasked with settling individual disputes. Of those families, 23 went on to file court complaints in an attempt to renege on the deals, saying they had been made under duress.
Mr. Chhay Eang denied Ms. Sophy’s charge, saying he was simply meeting with individual families to ascertain their demands, beginning with 16 families who have not yet accepted any compensation from KDC.
“I’m not from the company, and I have no ill intentions, because I am very open to meeting with every family so I can explore their individual needs, as everyone prefers a different option,” he said.
Soum Thon, 62, who accuses KDC of grabbing three hectares of her land in Ta Ches commune, met with Mr. Chhay Eang on Monday in what she said was a cordial atmosphere.
“[T]he environment is totally different. We were under pressure while meeting with Chea Kheng to accept small amounts of compensation by saying we didn’t have the paperwork to prove ownership of the land,” she said.
Ms. Thon, who rejected an offer of 6 million riel (about $1,500) from the company earlier this year, said she is pushing for a land-swap deal in which she would trade the contested plot for an adjacent one.
Kol Vanna, 56, who is asking for $20,000 in compensation for each of the four hectares of land she lost, also said Monday’s meetings were held only to canvass villagers’ opinions.
“We are getting old, and we have become so exhausted by staging protests in the street or battling at court, but we still demand fair compensation,” she added.