Scores of angry villagers protested outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday after judges allegedly awarded a parcel of land in Kandal province to a private militia—overturning two earlier court decisions granting it to a local pagoda.
As the villagers from Kandal’s Kien Svay district clamored outside the courthouse in Phnom Penh at about 9 a.m., Venerable Yan Vanthoeun said the court had effectively ripped the land out from under the pagoda he oversees, Wat Samraong Thom.
“This land belongs to the pagoda because we have occupied it for more than 20 years and we have a land title,” the monk said. He went on to accuse the court of taking a bribe from the militia’s leader, a military colonel named Chhum Mony.
“The court decision was not fair and, in my opinion, the court should capture Chhum Mony’s group and put them in prison because they stole the pagoda’s land,” he said.
Neither Mr. Mony nor Supreme Court director Dith Munty could be reached.
Yan Vanthoeun said the land in question—2.5 hectares in Kien Svay’s Samraong commune—was gifted to the pagoda by the 15-man militia in 1994.
In 2007, the monk said, six members of the militia approached him and demanded $10,000 for the plot. He refused, applied for and received a land title, and took the case to court.
The provincial court ruled in the pagoda’s favor in 2009, and the Appeal Court upheld the decision last year, he said.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling on Tuesday, Yan Vanthoeun said he would not cede the plot without a further fight. “We will not give the land to that group,” he said.
Kien Svay governor Ou Chheang confirmed the pagoda chief’s chronology of the dispute and said he was disappointed to hear that the Supreme Court had overturned the earlier decisions. He added that the militia’s attempts to acquire the land were motivated only by greed.
“They want to take the land to sell it because it would get at least $300,000,” he said.