Lor Peang Farmers Reject Assembly’s Land Swap

After promising in early September to settle a land dispute between farmers in Kompong Chhnang province and a company owned by the wife of a government minister within a week, the National Assembly’s human rights commission has yet to find common ground between the two sides.

Chea Poch, an opposition CNRP lawmaker and member of the commission, said this week that after discussions with the various parties involved in the dispute, the parliamentarians put together a land swap proposal for the 17 families that have refused compensation from KDC International, which is owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem.

“We have made a decision for a tentative location for the families to get a land swap, particularly we want to mediate between villagers and the company to agree to a swap deal, but the new location must have fertile soil for farming,” Mr. Poch said.

The proposed land is in Chhouk Sar commune, about 2 km from Lor Peang village—located in Kompong Tralach district’s Ta Ches commune—where villagers have been fighting to hold on to 145 hectares of farmland, also claimed by KDC, since 2007.

Reich Seima, a village representative, said that he had visited the proposed site and determined that it wasn’t fit for planting.

“We cannot accept this location for swapping because the land is not fertile enough for our farming. Even grass is very hard to grow because it’s so sandy,” Mr. Seima said. “We are very disappointed with the commission because it has been two months with no proper solution.”

Also this week, seven more families from Lor Peang submitted complaints with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court requesting the cancellation of compensation agreements with KDC that they say were signed under duress.

In April, Ms. Kheng established a committee to help settle individual disputes with villagers, some of which have been farming the disputed land for decades. The committee mediated compensation deals with 35 families, 30 of which have now requested to have the agreements canceled.

Pheng Rom, one of the seven families who filed a complaint this week, said that Ms. Kheng promised on April 4 to pay him $10,000 to settle the dispute, but had only paid $6,000, leading him to ask the court to cancel the agreement.

“I have no confidence that the company will pay me the rest of the money for losing my land,” Mr. Rom said.

However, Thai Hy, a representative of KDC, said that Ms. Kheng would make good on the rest of the promised payment once all disagreements had been resolved.

“That is why I told Mr. Rom to be patient, because Her Excellency [Ms. Kheng] will definitely give him the [money] once the case is completely settled,” he said.

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