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30 questioned in land dispute, groups say

KAMPONG Chhnang officials questioned 30 residents from Kampong Tralach district's Lor Peang village over a long-running land dispute that has pitted villagers against local authorities, rights groups said Tuesday.

Lor Peang residents claim the village chief and commune councilors forced them to thumbprint documents in February that signalled their  agreement to hand 145 hectares of land to KDC, a local developer.

Tot Kim Sroy, provincial coordinator for the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), which filed complaints on behalf of the villagers in March, said Tuesday that Kampong Tralach district Deputy Governor Pich Khorn questioned over 30 villagers about their complaints.

"I think it is very good that the authorities have conducted an investigation into their complaints," Tot Kim Sroy said. "I observed that there was really a threat [against the villagers]."

Tot Kim Sroy added that Pich Khorn let the villagers return home and will now report back to provincial Governor Touch Marim.

KDC first laid claim to the land in 2006, prompting villagers to file their initial complaint in the provincial court, which rejected it.

Villagers and rights groups involved in the case say KDC bought part of a 512-hectare plot of land in 2006. KDC claims to have purchased the entire plot, including the disputed 145 hectares, and produced legal titles for it in August 2007.

"At the present time, the 64 families that have handed over farmland are now in a dispute with the company," said resident representative Om Sophy, who added that 14 houses have been destroyed by bulldozers since September 2008.

Sam Chankea, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said he "welcomed" the investigations into the dispute, but said the process should have been completed long ago.

"The authorities should have conducted the investigation on this long-simmering dispute from the beginning, so as not to extend it until now," he said.



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