Rights group Adhoc on Thursday rejected Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem’s recent accusation that the organization was somehow manipulating and prolonging a long-running land dispute between his wife, Chea Kheng, and a group of villagers in Kompong Chhnang province.
Mr. Sem made the remark during an unrelated press conference at the ministry on Tuesday, answering a Voice of Democracy reporter’s questions about a dispute between 83 families and KDC International, his wife’s company, over a 183-hectare plot of land.
“Some people are behind it, including Adhoc and politicians. If it were only the villagers, the problem would be completely solved,” he was quoted by the news outlet as saying.
It was the minister’s first public comment about the dispute, which dates back to the late 1990s.
In a prepared statement, Adhoc on Thursday said that it had provided the villagers with legal advice—as it has done in numerous land disputes—but denied doing anything wrong.
It said Mr. Sem made the claim “to conceal the use of his power for personal gain and to make human rights groups ignore the villagers so that he can use the courts and the authorities under his power to put pressure on the villagers.”
“Moreover, it clearly proves that Suy Sem has used his job and public position to protect KDC’s interests from the beginning to the present.”
The statement went on to accuse the minister of violating both the Constitution and the law governing civil servants.
The Constitution states that: “The function of members of the Royal Government is incompatible with any professional activity in the field of trade or industry and with the holding of any position in the public function.”
Mr. Sem could not be reached for comment.
Oum Sophy, one of the villagers in the dispute, denied that Adhoc was somehow to blame.
“Neither Adhoc nor any politician stands behind us,” she said. “It is Suy Sem himself who has used his power to protect his wife and hurt poor villagers…. Every decision the villagers make is their right.”