Protest Outside Kandal Court as Questioning Starts in Land Case

About 200 people from Ponhea Leu district protested outside the Kandal provincial court Monday as questioning began of residents summoned last month in an ongoing land dispute.

The court summoned 12 villagers on June 30, shortly after Phanimex Development company filed a complaint against the families, who have led protests against the company for allegedly grabbing 63 hectares of land belonging to 180 families in two villages in Ponhea Leu commune.

Deputy provincial prosecutor Vong Bunvisoth said the court questioned four villagers Monday and would question the remaining eight by Thursday.

“We have not charged anybody yet as the court will continue to question people involved in the land dispute over the next few days,” he said.

Chhim Sovannavuth, 49, a major general at the Ministry of Interior, and Kim Seng, 54, a National Police official, were questioned alongside villagers Thi Narin, 46, and Sar So, 56.

Ponhea Leu commune chief Yu Phat is also among the eight villagers set to be questioned.

Villagers deny they ever sold the land to the company and have staged a number of protests in recent months calling on authorities to investigate. More than 200 residents blocked National Road 5 in the area at the end of April, setting fires to tires and wood to disrupt traffic on the busy thoroughfare.

They submitted a petition with 400 signatures on May 1 to district authorities calling for a solution to the dispute.

One of those involved in the dispute, 37-year-old Ly Leang, said the company was now accusing villagers of grabbing its land.

“The court [is] questioning the villagers about their reasons for blocking the national road and for removing the company’s demarcation posts.”

In 2007, the company was granted 2.6 hectares of land in Borei Keila district in Phnom Penh but failed to build sufficient replacement housing for the community, setting off a series of protests and often-violent confrontations between residents and company security guards and police.

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