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Bassac residents testify in land row

THREE residents of a disputed block of land in Chamkarmon district were questioned in Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday regarding a complaint filed by a company that has accused them of living on land it has owned since 1991.

Resident Tep Chhun said yesterday that he and two other villagers – Vorn Vun and Ngov Phirum – had been summoned to the court because they refused to move and accept “inadequate” compensation offered to them by Khov Sambath company.

“It was not a fair market price,” he said. “I have lived here for a very long time.”

The trio are part of a group of about 50 families that claim to have lived on a parcel of land in Tonle Bassac commune, known as T85, since the early 1990s. Meanwhile, the Khov Sambath Company claims to have purchased the T85 area in 1991 from the Ministry of Defence.

In a letter sent to City Hall in October last year, Chhay Rithysen, director of the municipal Department of Land Management, requested that T85 and a neighbouring block of land known as T87 be excluded from access to land titles under a national titling plan.

The letter also announced that land in both zones could be purchased from residents by companies at “an agreed price”.

But residents said the company has employed intimidation to coerce them into accepting inadequate compensation.

Chan Bunroth, another resident of T85, said that “summons orders ... are used to intimidate residents into accepting the small price the company offers, so that one-by-one we end up leaving”.

“Our houses are worth at least US$1,500 to $2,000 per square metre,” he said.

Hem Socheat, a lawyer for Khov Sambath Co, said that more than 400 families had sold their land to the company, and that the complaint had been filed to let people know that “the company still stands firm on its compensation offer”.

“We want the court to take legal action. We can offer only about $100 per square metre,” he said, and the holdout families wanted compensation that is “too high”.

Khun Bun Soeun, Khov Sambath Co’s general manager for the T85 area, said in August 2008 that the company was prepared to pay up to $550 per square metre for the land.

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