Kandal Villagers Refuse to Give Up Land

More than 60 people in Kandal province on Thursday protested the provincial court’s questioning of seven villagers who refused to thumbprint documents handing over their land to a dealer who claims to own it.

Lim Kea, the land dealer, says she bought about 155 hectares of land in Ponhea Leu district’s Chhvang and Chrey Las communes in 1997 and then sold it to SKD, a company that makes wine. But SKD lost the land when Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered it returned to the villagers in 2008. Ms. Kea says she has compensated SKD for the loss and believes she now owns it. 

Up to 58 villagers, however, say they were promised hundreds of dollars per hectare when they sold the land to a former village chief in the 1990s but have only ever been paid a fraction as down payment.

“We protested peacefully to demand that the court release the seven people because they are not guilty,” said Kuy Chanthorn. “We also protested to demand that the court find justice for us because the villagers who sold their land have only received a down payment.”

The court did release the seven after questioning them. But Ms. Kea insisted the land was hers.

“I already paid the villagers,” she said. “I filed a complaint against seven people first, and I will take the others to court to put them in jail because they refused to give me thumbprints.”

Ms. Kea said she bought the land for $400 per hectare in 1997 and then sold it on to SKD for $800 per hectare.

After Mr. Hun Sen ordered the land returned to the villagers, Ms. Kea claimed Thursday, she compensated the company but refused to say how much.

She referred further questions to Kim Meng Eang, a member of the National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution whom she claims prepared the document proving her claim to the land.

Mr. Meng Eang declined to comment.

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