Villagers Hurt as Koh Kong Land Dispute Erupts in Confrontation

Several Koh Kong province villagers were injured and a woman was knocked unconscious yesterday as workers from the Heng Huy Company attempted to remove them forcibly from contested land in Sre Ambel district, rights groups and villagers said yesterday.

The land dispute flared up on Friday as about 40 Chi Khor Krom commune families faced off with Heng Huy Company bulldozers after they cleared an 11-by-100-meter strip of farmland the villagers claimed was their property. On Monday, the bulldozers cleared an additional 10 hectares of land, ac­cording to village representatives.

The conflict turned violent yesterday when, according to Seng Maly, an observer from the Community Legal Education Center, Heng Huy ordered 10 of his company’s workers to remove villagers forcibly from around a fence they had erected to keep the company from planting cassava.

“There were around 10 police and military police at the scene,” said Ms Maly. “During the violence, they took no action to prevent it.”

According to villager representative Phao Nev, the group of female farmers protecting the fence sustained minor injuries after being manhandled by the workers, one of whom pulled out a stake and struck Y Kunthea with it, knocking her unconscious.

Mr Huy denied accusations of violence yesterday, saying he had never ordered his workers to use force.

“How could that be possible? The local authorities were there to ob­serve,” said Mr Huy. “They were just pretending to be beaten because they do not want me to plant.”

District police chief Mat Ty and provincial governor Bun Leut could not be reached for comment       yesterday.

According to human rights groups, the land dispute in Chi Khor Krom dates back to 2007, when a local official supposedly sold 400 hectares of land to development companies, including the Heng Huy Company. More than 60 affected families claimed they had not been consulted prior to the sale.

Some of the affected villagers sued, but last year the Supreme Court awarded the contested land to Mr Huy.

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