Villagers Walk Away From KDC Resolution Talks

Thirty-two families were called for questioning Thursday by a commission set up to resolve a long-running land dispute between villagers in Kompong Chhnang province’s Kompong Tralach district and Chea Kheng, the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem.

But most villagers walked away from the meeting after Ms. Kheng, whose agro-industry firm KDC International took over 145 hectares of farmland belonging to 52 families in 2007, said the villagers did not have enough proof that the land is theirs.

“We planned to question 32 families today to build a report to solve the problem, and we will continue to question another 20 families tomorrow,” said Ta Ches commune chief Sous Siphay, a member of the 15-member committee, which was formed at KDC’s request. The committee does not include village representatives.

“We just questioned 11 of the 32 families this morning, but those people walked away from the commune office and returned home after Chea Kheng said she would not recognize their responses because they don’t have the proof to state that the land is legally theirs,” he said.

Mr. Siphay said the 11 families are demanding compensation of  $15,000 to $20,000 per hectare, but that Ms. Kheng refuses to pay up without proof of ownership. Some families claim to have lived on the plots since 1988, giving them legal tenure to the land.

Sal Song, a 56-year-old villager involved in the dispute, says he became the owner of two hectares of farmland and rice fields in 1990. He is demanding $20,000 per hectare from Ms. Kheng.

“I don’t have a land title for the land, but I have a letter, which was recognized by the former village and commune chiefs,” he said.

“I walked away from the commune office because Chea Kheng did not recognize my letter and said it is invalid,” Mr. Song said.

Ms. Kheng could not be reached for comment.

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