The National Assembly’s newly formed bipartisan Human Rights Commission met with representatives from the embattled Lor Peang village on Monday, promising a prompt resolution to their 12-year-old dispute over 145 hectares of land in Kompong Chhnang province.
Lork Kheng, deputy chair of the commission, vowed that the dispute, which began in 2002 and has led in recent months to violent clashes and the arrest of five villagers, would be “completely resolved within a week.”
“I and other members in the commission have agreed to resolve the matter of 52 families involved in the court case with KDC,” Ms. Kheng said.
“We agreed to settle the Lor Peang case within a week. But whether it is successful or not depends on the will and loyalty of villagers and the KDC company,” she said.
Five representatives of rural Lor Peang village in Kompong Tralach district were called to meet with members of the Human Rights Commission on Monday, while representatives of KDC are set to meet today with the commission, which is chaired by CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang.
Ms. Kheng, a CPP lawmaker, said she has taken an interest in the case because she is a personal friend of KDC’s owner, Chea Kheng, the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem.
The villagers claim KDC conspired with local officials to purchase land that rightfully belonged to dozens of families who had been living in the area for decades. KDC says it purchased the land legally and has the documents to prove it.
“The commission thinks that both the villagers and the company are the victims,” Ms. Kheng said, adding that the lawmakers would make a field visit to speak with local authorities about the issue in the coming days.
In March, 38 families agreed to compensation deals with KDC, following the creation of a special committee tasked with settling individual disputes. However, 23 of the families have since filed court complaints requesting permission to renege on those deals—as they were made under duress.
Ms. Kheng said the Human Rights Commission would address those complaints.
Additionally, she said, “there are 43 families who have never been involved with the company, but which have recently emerged in the dispute and have made claims on land that is already claimed by the company,” Ms. Kheng added.
In July, KDC began hiring dozens of workers, many from local households, to begin construction of a wall around the swath of disputed land, which the company plans to turn into an industrial zone with some 20 factories. Angry villagers clashed with the workers on at least three occasions, with both sides blaming the other for provoking the violence.
Over the past two months, five villagers have been arrested for their alleged roles in the clashes. They were all released on bail Friday after another CPP lawmaker, Ker Chanmony, personally provided the provincial court with a guarantee for the men.
About 100 Lor Peang villagers are currently residing in a building in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak community and have begun to join daily protests against various land evictions.
Among them is villager representative Reach Seima, who said the parliamentarians should focus their probe on who signed off on the deal for KDC to acquire the land in the first place.
“The land dispute between villagers and the KDC company can be resolved easily only if there is a thorough investigation into the person who sold our land to the company,” he said.
Mr. Seima also expressed concern that the commission, which told villagers they would have to provide land-title documents for review, would not be able to fully resolve the issue, because some villagers do not have the required paperwork.