Villagers in Oddar Meanchey were questioned in court yesterday after 11 families were sued by a businessman who says he owns 20 hectares of land they occupy.
Four representatives of the families appeared in Oddar Meanchey Provincial Court, defending their right to the piece of 49 hectares of land in Trapaing Prasat district’s Preah Brolay commune that Pheng Siphal claims he owns.
Although villagers lack an official certificate of land ownership, they have a land measurement receipt given to them during the nation’s recent land titling drive, said Pel Thy, 43, one of the villagers questioned.
“The volunteer students measured the land and gave us the receipt in 2012, but we have not got the certificates yet,” Thy said.
Families have lived and worked on the land since 2004, Thy said. But last year Siphal filed a lawsuit claiming the 20 hectares they live on is on the 49 he owns.
Siphal, who could not be reached yesterday, appears to be unknown to locals. Em Savoeurn, chief of Tram Paong village, where the land lies, said that he had never heard of Siphal until the dispute emerged. He remains unsure what type of business Siphal conducts.
Even when the villagers showed the land measurement receipt in court, Judge Kuon Chantha asked the group if they wanted to “be sent to prison if you do not want to return the land”, according to Thy.
“I am not afraid; I will go to prison, because I did not steal the land. I cleared it myself,” Thy recalled saying to Chantha in court yesterday. “I burst into laughter at being summoned to court for something like this.”
Neither Chantha, nor provincial land management department director Kim Keavin or Provincial Hall spokesman Vath Paranin could be reached yesterday.
Srey Naren, the Oddar Meanchey provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, yesterday said that the villagers should have received their official land certificates long ago.
“Most villagers were not given titles for the measured land, because the proper procedure was not followed,” Naren said.