Chea Kheng, the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem, has agreed to the formation of a committee to investigate the ownership of a 145-hectare plot of land in Kompong Chhnang province that has been in dispute since 2007, according to local rights group Adhoc.
During a meeting with Adhoc on February 7, Ms. Kheng provided documents showing that KDC International, an agro-industry firm she owns, paid $70,000 in 2007 for more than 600 hectares of land in Kompong Tralach district’s Ta Ches commune that included the disputed area, according to Sam Chankea, Adhoc’s Kompong Chhnang provincial coordinator.
“During the meeting facilitated by the commune chief, [Ms. Kheng] showed us all the documents to prove her legal ownership of the disputed land,” Mr. Chankea said, adding that Ms. Kheng claimed that she had already donated 100 hectares of land to aggrieved families.
“But she doesn’t understand why the land remains under conflict,” he said, adding that Ms. Kheng had agreed in principle to the formation of an ad-hoc committee to determine who has the legal right to the disputed land.
Ms. Kheng could not be reached for comment.
Ta Ches commune chief Suos Siphay expressed optimism that the new committee might resolve the seven-year-old dispute between KDC International and 52 farming families living in Lor Peang village.
“I hope to reach a consensus [of agreement],” Mr. Siphay said. “While the company has strong legal documents, villagers have also lived and farmed on this land, which is why a joint committee is in the process of being created.”
Mr. Siphay said that provincial authorities are yet to sign off on the creation of the committee, which would be composed of representatives from KDC, evicted families, local authorities and Adhoc.
The dispute between Ms. Kheng and Lor Peang villagers escalated in March last year when villagers burned down wooden shelters on the disputed land, which they claimed housed at least three combat troops deployed by KDC International. Military officials at the time denied sending troops to the disputed area.
Nak Ken, 29, who lost more than 1 hectare of rice fields to KDC, said that villagers had already elected a representative to join the investigation committee.
“If the land conflict is peacefully settled outside of court, it will be best,” she said.
Kompong Chhnang Provincial Court has repeatedly declined to investigate complaints filed by evicted residents. In 2012, the provincial court ordered Chat Batt, a 70-year-old villager, to pay $2,500 in compensation to KDC for failing to cease farming on a plot of disputed land.