Questions Still Linger Over Botched Land Deal

Soeung Sam Oeun crouched outside the hulk of the Kok Rok­ha commune headquarters in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao District, and watched as rain pelted the surrounding land.

“It’s raining, so the villagers will be busy farming the rice,” the com­mune police chief said.

Busy farming, that is, instead of looting or burning. Many issues remain unresolved despite the end of last week’s violence that followed a botched land deal.

Commune Chief Yen Tok and four other officials whose homes were destroyed remained in hiding Monday. The chief’s son, Yen Sarak, said angry villagers last Thursday suspected Yen Tok had placed a bomb in his house, so they held a knife to the son’s neck and pushed him from room to room before looting and burning the house.

“The whole family is scared, because we are afraid they will come back,” said Srey Phorn, Yen Tok’s son-in-law.

The villagers were angry be­cause Yen Tok had promised each of the 1,106 families in the com­­mune $113 if a Chinese business bought 250 hectares of un­used communal land. Commune authorities said the business, iden­tified by Kim Sen as Ching Yang, ran out of funding.

But some villagers Monday said they believed that officials had sold the land and pocketed the money. “We knocked things down because we want the commune chief to surrender in front of everyone. We wanted to ask him, ‘Is it true you sold the land or not yet?’” villager Sia Phally said.

Angry villagers on Wednesday surrounded the commune headquarters, pulled out the commune chief and ransacked the of­fice, where they found a memo­ran­­dum indicating that each family would get $113. It also suggested payoffs to a high official, who would get $20,000.

Sia Phally said the unsigned, handwritten memo suggested col­lusion by officials to sell the land. Yen Sarak said the memo appeared to have been written by a representative for the Chinese business. Soeung Sam Oeun said it had been fabricated by a vengeful villager. He said he was looking for the forger.

Also on Monday, the human rights group Licadho said it was in­vestigating the weekend hanging death of a village man.

Authorities labeled the death a suicide, but Licadho investigator Kim Sen said it was suspicious be­cause the dead man, Bronh Chhorn, 38, was active in the dem­onstrations.

Bronh Chhorn’s wife, however, said she believed her husband  killed himself.

“After he got drunk, the ghosts went into his body and they led him to hang him­self,” said Mai Mao.

Mai Mao and Soeung Sam Oun said they both examined Bronh Chhorn’s body and found no signs of homicide. But the body was not autopsied, Soeung Sam Oun said.



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