Sen Sok Land Dispute Families Butt Heads in Municipal Court

A representative of 163 families who were awarded a hectare of land four years ago after a lengthy legal battle accused one of the awardees in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday of inventing a different group of 163 families with claims to the land in an attempt to claim it for herself.

The Supreme Court awarded the families a 9,982-square-meter plot of land in 2011 in Sen Sok district after they won a rare land dispute victory over a local businesswoman.

Shortly afterward, one of the awardees, Chea Sarom, claimed the entire area for herself and her family, and has prevented the others from settling on it.

In court Tuesday, Pring Socheat, the representative, accused Ms. Sarom of breach of trust.

“She betrayed us and will not give us the land and she took my name out from the list,” said Ms. Socheat, referring to a list of awardees issued by the Supreme Court. Both Ms. Socheat and Ms. Sarom are included on the court-issued list.

After Presiding Judge Chhe Virak read about 70 names on the list, Ms. Sarom said she did not recognize any of them and showed her own list of the 163 families she claims to represent, although they did not appear on the list issued by the Supreme Court.

Ms. Sarom added that the families Ms. Socheat represents were actually the ones pretending to have rights to the land so they could steal it.

“How can I give the land to my villagers if the fake group showed up and prevented us?” she said.

In March, the land was set to be demarcated to settle the dispute but the Agriculture Ministry issued a letter claiming the land belonged to the ministry and told the municipal court to hold off on giving it away.

Following widespread criticism, the agriculture minister issued another letter on May 21 saying it would not interfere if the court decided to divide up the land among the families, but said it wanted to oversee the demarcation.

Judge Vireak said the case would continue on July 23.

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