Villagers Questioned Over Dispute With Senator

The Koh Kong Provincial Court questioned four villager representatives Tuesday over alleged violence and property damage in an ongoing land dispute with CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat’s Koh Kong Special Economic Zone company.

In January, Mr. Yong Phat began erecting a concrete wall around part of the disputed land in Kiri Sakor district. When villagers attempted to halt the construction by confiscating tools, Mr. Yong Phat filed a complaint with the provincial court accusing them of using violence against his employees and damaging hammers, shovels and wheelbarrows.

“We told the court that we did not use violence and that those tools were kept safely at the deputy village chief’s house,” said Ruot Sophal, one of the four representatives questioned Tuesday.

“I was very upset that the company and the authorities stole villagers’ land,” Mr. Sophal said. “We requested a suitable resolution but got nothing. We will protest against the company until we find a solution.”

Mr. Sophal said 135 families lost their farmland when Mr. Yong Phat evicted them from their properties in order to begin construction of the wall.

Mr. Yong Phat, who could not be reached for comment, has said in the past that he owes nothing to the families because he rightfully bought the land—about 2,000 hectares—from its legitimate owners.

Deputy prosecutor Srey Makny, who questioned the representatives, could not be reached for comment.

Phat Bun Hour, a representative of Koh Kong Special Economic Zone Co. Ltd., Tuesday said “the company did not steal the villagers’ land, but the villagers stole the company’s land.”

“We find it difficult to talk with villagers because they do not listen to us,” he added.

In Kongchet, the Koh Kong provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said that more than 100 villagers protested outside the courthouse Tuesday in support of the representatives.

“I think that the company wants to threaten the villagers’ spirit, so they filed a complaint against the villagers,” Mr. Kongchet said, adding that villagers met with deputy provincial governor Son Dara following the demonstration.

Mr. Sophal, the villager representative, said the deputy governor promised to forward their case to officials at the national level.

But, Mr. Sophal added, “I stopped believing the provincial officials because they said the same thing before.”

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