THREE village representatives linked to a land dispute involving a sister of Prime Minister Hun Sen have been called to Kampong Speu provincial court to answer to allegations that they tried to kill employees of a developer, two rights groups said yesterday.
HLH Agriculture, which is jointly controlled by Hun Seng Ny and Singaporean Ong Bee Huat, has accused the representatives – Min Pek, Suong Davin and Hang Boeun – of attempting to kill several of the company’s employees during a November 2008 protest over 450 hectares of disputed land in Omlaing commune, located in Kampong Speu’s Thpong district, said Ouch Leng, a land programme officer for the rights group Adhoc.
The three village representatives, who have not been charged with any crime, dismissed the allegations as baseless yesterday.
“On that day in 2008 we were walking back from our rice fields carrying machetes,” said Hang Boeun, 46.
“We only wanted to see the other villagers protesting against the HLH Agriculture staff because they were preventing them from clearing our farmland.”
On that day in 2008 we were walking back from our rice fields carrying machetes. We only wanted to see the other villagers....
Hang Boeun said five other villagers were summoned for questioning in 2008 in connection with the incident, but no arrests were ever made.
Min Pek, 45, expressed concern that the court would reflexively side with the company.
“I know that poor people never win in court against the rich, but I have to appear at the court because if I don’t go I will face arrest,” he said.
Hun Seng Ny has been cooperating with Ong Bee Huat since March 2009 to develop agro-industrial corn plantations in Kampong Speu, Ouch Leng said, and added that the company had a history of impinging on land claimed by villagers.
In March 2009, HLH Agriculture was also awarded a 9,985-hectare concession in nearby Oral district.
According to its contract with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the company is required to pay just US$1 per hectare in annual rent.
Ong Bee Huat could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Naly Pilorge, director of the rights group Licadho, said the company “has publicly admitted that the prime minister’s sister is [its] local partner”.
“So any concession this company has is linked to her,” she said.
Kampong Speu provincial Judge Keo Mony declined to comment on the Omlaing case yesterday.