The trial of Pav Nhoeung, who stands charged with causing intentional damage for allegedly killing two cows belonging to a businessman whose company is accused of stealing land belonging to local families, began at the Koh Kong Provincial Court on Wednesday.
With some 70 fellow villagers gathered outside the courthouse, Ms. Nhoeung said she reiterated during the hearing that she played no role in the death of the two cows owned by Heng Huy, whose eponymous agriculture firm has a 779-hectare land concession in Sre Ambel district’s Chi Khor Krom commune.
Ms. Nhoeung, 39, who along with her neighbors has fought a bitter and sometimes violent land dispute with Mr. Huy dating back to 2008, said she was asked in court about her whereabouts on May 30, 2013—the day the cows died.
“The day it happened, I had not been staying at my home for about a month. I had left my home to look after a farm” in Preah Sihanouk province, she said.
“I think Heng Huy is a rich person and he wants to use the court system to break my spirit because he is angry with me for standing up against him in the land dispute,” she added.
Heng Huy Agriculture Group was granted its concession to harvest sugarcane in 2008, but a dispute ensued after the company was accused of having encroached upon land outside its boundaries.
Twenty-four families reached a deal with the company to move off the land in 2010, but four families—including Ms. Nhoeung’s—filed a complaint with the provincial court in 2013 claiming that they had been coerced into signing, and asking for their contracts to be nullified.
Mr. Huy said Wednesday that he was too busy with his business to attend the trial of Ms. Nhoeung.
“I have not encroached outside my concession. Those villagers were illegally living on my land,” he said. “Let the court find justice because police found evidence: pesticide under her house.”
Deputy provincial court prosecutor Srey Makny said a verdict would be handed down on June 30.