The Kampot provincial court on Friday ruled in favor of a military commander in a controversial land case that rights workers said could affect hundreds of other villagers.
Judge Pak Layee ruled that the commander of the Kep municipality’s sub-military unit, Meach Mann, is the rightful owner of 3.8 hectares of land in Trapeang Thmar village, rejecting defendant Tuan Sann’s claims that his family had farmed on the same land for generations.
Meach Mann is also involved in a land dispute with hundreds of villagers of more than 400 hectares of farmland in the Trapeang Thmar village .
In court, Meach Mann showed documents from 1989 and 1996 that claim he possesses Tuan Sann’s land. Tuan Sann presented the court with similar documents of his own from 1996.
“Mr. Tuan Sann’s document is not enough to prove his legal entitlement of the land,” Pak Layee said by phone on Monday. “And Meach Mann had permission from the local authority to hold the land and his land title certificate is legal.”
Tuan Sann’s lawyers contended that Meach Mann’s documents were forged. As part of a 1996 land title application, a surveyor took thumbprints from neighbors to verify the plot of land belonged to Meach Mann. The neighbors testified last week that they never left their thumbmarks on the documents.
Nearly 50 other farmers near Tuan Sann’s land protested in front of the National Assembly last month. At the time, the villagers claimed that Meach Mann’s unit took their farmland in 1996 and forced the farmers to put their thumbprints on documents to possess their land.
The defendant plans to appeal the case to the upper court, said attorney Lean Chenda, Legal Aid of Cambodia’s vice director.
The defendant also plans to file a court complaint saying that Meach Mann’s documents are invalid, she said.