The Koh Kong Provincial Court on Tuesday charged a 38-year-old woman with intentionally causing damage by killing two cows belonging to the Heng Huy Agriculture Group during an ongoing land dispute in Sre Ambel district, the villager and a rights group said.
Phav Nhoeung was summoned by the court following a complaint made by the company over the incident in Chi Khor Loeu commune, which dates back to May 2 last year. She was subsequently charged and released under condition of court supervision pending trial, according to a court document obtained Tuesday.
“The accused person, Phav Nhoeung, 38, was charged with intentionally causing damage but the court decided against pretrial detention,” said the June 3 letter signed by investigating Judge Kham Sophary.
The company was granted a 779-hectare land concession to harvest sugarcane in the commune in 2008 but a dispute ensued after the company was alleged to have encroached upon land outside the concession’s demarcation, impacting 24 families.
The families reached a deal in 2010 with the company to move off the land, but four families—including Ms. Nhoeung’s—filed a complaint with the Koh Kong Provincial Court in February last year alleging they were coerced into signing and asked for their contracts to be nullified.
Ms. Nhoeung and eight other people from Prek Chik village also threatened last year to commit suicide in front of the Supreme Court if the issue was not resolved.
On Tuesday, she denied killing the cows by poisoning and said the court charge against her—and the speed with which it was brought—highlights the inequity of Cambodia’s judicial system.
“I didn’t kill the cow or poison it—I wasn’t here when it happened as I had moved to work on a farm in Kompong Seila district,” Ms. Nhoeung said.
“It is a false accusation by the company, which is using the court system to exploit poor people,” she added, pointing to the fact that a lawsuit submitted to the same court in 2010 over the dispute was never processed.
In Kongchet, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, agreed.
“The court is conducting this small case brought against a villager by a company for killing its cows, but when villagers lodged a complaint with the court against the same company for clearing their land, the court ignored it,” he said.
The company’s owner, Mr. Huy, said the charge against her was warranted.
“She poisoned and killed two cows and evidence of the pesticide used was found at her home,” he said, declining to comment further.