A company owned by the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem forged ahead with its construction of a concrete wall around a swath of disputed land in Kompong Chhnang province Friday, despite a call from the U.N.’s human rights envoy on Thursday that building be delayed until a settlement is reached with evicted farmers.
KDC International, which is owned by Mr. Sem’s wife, Chea Kheng, is accused by villagers of illegally grabbing and clearing 145 hectares of land in Kompong Chhnang province in 2002. A diminishing number of families, now at 16, have refused compensation offers that they say are too small.
Over the past week, KDC workers have arrived at Lor Peang village to erect a concrete wall around the land that locals say they have been farming since the 1980s. Dozens of police have been sent to the village in Kompong Tralach district, ostensibly to prevent violence. But twice last week, villagers violently clashed with workers.
And despite the concern raised by Surya Subedi, the U.N.’s human rights rapporteur to Cambodia, local officials say there is nothing they can do to stop it.
“The authorities at all levels have given approval for the company to erect the wall on the land,” said Ta Ches commune chief Nuon San.
“How could I say no to the company building a fence on their property, while the villagers who have made claims to the land do not have any proof of ownership of the land in question?”
Oum Sophy, a village representative, said that work on the wall is moving faster than ever.
“The company’s workers, backed by heavy police and military police, have started working faster to build the fence, despite the land still being in dispute,” she said.
On July 1, the Ministry of Justice responded to a request from the villagers for intervention in the case, referring the dispute to the provincial court.
Ms. Sophy said that she had no hope that the court would take action, “because there are no officials in the province who have ever tried to help resolve cases in favor of the poor.”