Less than a week after Prime Minister Hun Sen called for land to be returned to villagers embroiled in land disputes, a Pursat province villager has been summonsed by the court in a scenario many see as all too common in these disputes.
Kuch Veng, a representative of villagers in Krokor district was charged with incitement in late May for leading other villagers in a bid to stop Pheap Imex company from clearing their farm land, but only found out that he had been charged on Monday.
“I am afraid because I did not do anything wrong – I and other villagers just prevented the company from clearing rice fields and crops, because what the company did was wrong and they [authorities] accused me,” he said.
Kuch Veng pointed out that in all land disputes, it was only ever the villagers charged and hauled before the courts, while the powerful companies seemed to escape the court system completely.
“Related to the speech made by Prime Minister Hun Sen last week, we victims don’t believe that it can be settled fairly. Even though we [villagers] have seen his words, the low-level officials do not follow at all,” he said.
“[Hun Sen] promised that if he could not fight against illegal logging, he would behead himself, so I am interested in the prime minister’s words,” Kuch Veng added, saying that villagers embroiled in land disputes were too afraid to report abuse to low-level officials, because those officials were too corrupt.
Chen Sorn, another villager embroiled in a land dispute with the company in Kbal Trach commune, said that he felt fear after learning of the court charging Kuch Veng and summoning him to answer questions.
Or Ny, Pursat provincial court clerk, said that the court has issued a summons for Kuch Veng as soon as he was charged, but that he did not receive it because he was not at home. The clerk said the court would continue to seek the villager activist’s appearance.
Some 12,000 families are currently involved in land disputes on a Pheap Imex economic land concession that spans two provinces and more than 315,000 hectares.
In Pursat province, 8,200 families from 13 communes and 59 villages are disputing 13,116 hectares in the Krakor, Kravanh and Pursat city districts.
In Kampong Chhnang, 3,800 families in two districts – Boribo and Toek Pos – are battling over approximately 7,500 hectares.
Eighteen villagers received court summonses last year regarding complaints filed by Pheap Imex for incitement, destruction of property and the preventing of development.
Pursat provincial governor Khoy Sokha said he has formed a committee to begin discussions about how to obey Hun Sen’s instructions to award land to villagers in land disputes.
“We have done according to the prime minister’s recommendations and this is the first step. So later, if villagers are getting upset, the authorities will cut the land from the company to hand over to the villagers,” he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at firstname.lastname@example.org