Villagers Hold Ceremony to Curse Minister’s Wife, Officials

Villagers in Kompong Chhnang province involved in a long-running land dispute with a minister’s wife took their grievances to the spirit world this weekend, staging a two-day ceremony during which they cast traditional curses on company officials and local authorities they say have wronged them.

The villagers have been battling the company KDC International, run by Chea Kheng, wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem, since 2007 over 145 hectares of land in Kompong Tralach district that Ms. Kheng wants to develop.

During the cursing ceremony, over 50 villagers used knives to stab effigies of Ms. Kheng and her manager, as well as three effigies representing local authorities, the provincial court and the villagers who have taken jobs with the company. The participants in the ceremony also hurled chili peppers and salt at the effigies in an effort to curse them.

“Villagers celebrated this cursing ceremony because they have filed many complaints with authorities, but there has been no solution for them,” said villager Seang Heng.

After months of simmering tensions, violent clashes broke out twice last week in Lor Peang village after KDC workers began building a concrete wall around the disputed land. Mr. Heng said villagers were now formulating a plan to protest in Phnom Penh over the dispute.

Both Mr. Heng and another participant, Oum Sophy, said villagers were convinced of the effectiveness of their curses because six local officials who helped defend KDC’s claim to the land have died over the past three years, including three commune chiefs, the former provincial governor and a commune police chief, who broke his neck after falling from a hammock.

“We used to hold a cursing ceremony and we have seen results, because some people involved with the case died,” Ms. Sophy said.

She added that she hoped the spirits would kill Ms. Kheng and her manager, Thay Hi, as well.

Reached Sunday, Mr. Hi brushed off the threats, saying he feared no retribution from the spirit world because he had done nothing wrong.

“I’m not worried about this cursing because we didn’t commit bad deeds and we also did not take the farmland of those people,” he said.

“On the contrary, the cursing will return to those people themselves because the spirit of the devada [angel] has eyes to see if we commit good deeds.”

Choup Chansoeun, chief of police in Ta Ches commune, where the dispute is centered, said it was the right of the villagers to hold the ceremony, but that it was mere superstition.

“They have done it many times, but we have never seen something happen,” he said. “The people died of sickness and traffic accidents, not from cursing.”

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