Violence Breaks Out in Land Dispute With Minister’s Wife

A long-simmering land dispute between a group of villagers and a high-ranking minister’s wife turned violent this weekend as 10 people were injured while trying to block the KDC company from building a warehouse on contested land in Kompong Chhnang province, villagers and police said Sunday.

Residents of Kompong Tralach district’s Ta Ches commune have been battling KDC—which is owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem—since 2007 over several hundred hectares of land claimed by Ms. Kheng.

According to Reach Seima, a villager representative, this weekend’s violence started on Saturday morning when about 80 villagers confronted a group of 200 KDC workers building a wooden warehouse in which the company plans to store construction equipment.

Mr. Seima claimed that after villagers began to protest, workers attacked them with steel pellets shot from slingshots and wooden arrows shot from bows.

“Workers started attacking protesters first with slingshots and bows, then the villagers responded,” he said.

Poeu Noeun, 56, was wounded on the head during the violence, and nine other villagers also sustained minor injuries.

“I was injured on the right side of my head with a slingshot during the attack and went to a private clinic to get two stitches,” she said.

Commune police chief Chuop Chanthoeun contested the villagers’ account and placed the blame for the skirmish squarely on the protesters, who he said had provoked the violence.

“The violence occurred because villagers came to prevent workers from building a wooden house on the company’s land,” he said.

“Villagers attacked the workers first with slingshots and bows and burned the company’s house, but workers responded with slingshots. Workers did not use bows as villagers have alleged,” he added.

Mr. Chanthoeun said that at 3 p.m., the villagers burned down the wooden structure that workers had attempted to build on the disputed land.

He said authorities would file a police report accusing the villagers of property destruction and assault.

KDC manager Thay Yi declined to comment on the incident.

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