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Destroyed houses spark debate in Kampot

A company owned by a board member of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce has been accused of illegally destroying more than 80 houses in Kampot province’s Chhouk district, a claim vigorously denied by the firm and local authorities.

Chan Pheng, a villager from Chi Bak village in Techo Aphiwat commune, told the Post yesterday that employees of tycoon Chan Sothea, director of First Bio-Tech Agricultural (Cambodia) Co, Ltd, had been burning down their homes since November 2, 2012.

“My house was burned and [so were] my crops. I did not get any compensation. Where can we live? They dismantled our houses. Please help the residents,” he said.

The families had been living on the land for some five years now and were still waiting for authorities to grant them land titles, he added.

But Kampot’s Deputy Governor Heng Vantha said about 70 per cent of the villagers in Chi Bak were actually recent arrivals, and their homes had only been dismantled so that they could be relocated.

“In fact, some residents come to live in Chi Bak recently. They live illegally. If they live legally, the authority will prepare land for them, and especially in the case that they get a letter confirming that they are a poor family,” he said.

Under the 2001 Cambodian land law, a person who has occupied uncontested land for five years is deemed to have possession and can apply for a title. However, in cases where the land is disputed, such a case must be resolved in the courts.

Techo Aphiwat commune chief Chin Soeun confirmed yesterday that houses in Chi Bak village had been dismantled, but said claims the company burned the homes down were wildly exaggerated.

“At least 80 families’ [homes] were dismantled until now. Local authorities are coming to do an official list of the amount of houses to dismantle. It is the work of the provincial authority,” he said.

In 2005, First Bio-Tech Agricultural (Cambodia) was granted a 10,000 hectare economic land concession in the area to develop a corn plantation and processing factory.

Documents obtained by the Post earlier this year showed that the ELC had been cancelled, although its status remains unclear as another ELC in the same district that was scrapped appears to have since been revised.

Chan Sothea, vehemently denied her company had illegally destroyed homes in Chi Bak and said her ELC was valid.

“Some residents from Kampong Cham and Prey Veng illegally live there. Some residents have ring leaders that break up the land to sell it illegally. If they live legally, I will give them land – 1.5 hectares [each],” she said.

Officials at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries could not be reached for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sen David at david.sen@phnompenhpost.com

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