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Villagers attempt to stop a bulldozer from clearing land in Kampong Chhnang
Villagers attempt to stop a bulldozer from clearing land in Kampong Chhnang during a land dispute with KDC International in July. Heng Chivoan

Disputes aired in committee

Civil society representatives yesterday met with the National Assembly’s human rights commission, which reiterated promises of a speedy resolution of the nearly decade-old dispute between villagers in Kampong Chhnang’s Lorpeang village and the politically connected KDC International, those involved in the meeting said.

Ny Chakrya of rights group Adhoc said that his organisation, along with the rights group Licadho, had presented documents regarding the dispute to the commission, which had, in turned, promised speedy action, just days after it promised village representatives that their dispute would be resolved within a week.

“We all agreed unanimously to find a resolution and justice for the people … and we will also find justice for the company,” Chakrya said, calling the commission’s cooperation with civil society a historic step that he hoped to see repeated.

Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor for Licadho, said they had also asked the committee to release villagers arrested when authorities forcibly dispersed a peaceful march to Phnom Penh.

“If the representatives are in prison, the resolution won’t go smoothly,” he said.

The commission’s director, Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang, said the body would act as a mediator between the villagers and KDC, which is owned by Chea Kheng, wife of Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem.

“We do not know how to solve it yet, but we will put our efforts into solving it as soon as possible,” he said.

Meanwhile, 10 civil society and community representatives met yesterday with the assembly’s environmental commission to call for the protection of Koh Kong province’s Areng Valley, which is threatened by a massive dam project.

Commission president Pol Ham, also a CNRP lawmaker, said the commission would review the request, and if the project was indeed found to have a negative effect, it would summon government officials to clarify, or even visit the site itself.

Political analyst Kem Ley, however, said that parliamentary commissions hold little real power when it comes to influencing outcomes like those sought by yesterday’s petitioners. The real power, he said, lies in the hands of committees stacked with government appointees. Given that, he added, the CNRP should be honest about what it can actually achieve.

“The CNRP promised a lot to the people after entering the NA, but I see that the power is in the hands of the [Cambodian People’s Party].”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STUART WHITE

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