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Governor embroiled in K Thom land fight

ABOUT 65 families in Kampong Thom province's Baray district have become embroiled in a dispute with the former  district governor over 100 hectares of land that they say the official has stolen from them.

The families say Steng Sen district Governor Uth Sam On, who used to govern Baray district, has seized their land and their cassava harvest.

The governor says the land belongs to him and a group of local businessmen and police, and said he was being falsely accused.

Human rights group Licadho said it was not clear exactly who owned the land.

A representative of the families, Ouch Chanthorn, told the Post Wednesday that the governor had instructed 30 labourers and three policemen to block access to the land in Bak Thnar commune since March 11.

"Now [the labourers] have harvested more than two hectares of our cassava crop worth US$4,000," Ouch Chanthorn said.

Legal options

Uth Sam On confirmed that some police were present, saying they were part-owners.

He said he was the victim in the dispute, adding that he had documentation to prove that as Baray district governor in 1996 he had agreed that 10 people could clear the land and plant crops in exchange for him paying them 150,000 riels ($38).

Uth Sam On said a group of more than 20 people - including military police and local businessmen - had legal title to the site, which he said is 81 hectares.

He also said that only a few families were now farming the land.

"If they try to resolve this peacefully, I will be generous and give them a piece of land to farm," he said. "But if they remain stubborn I will file a complaint in court."

Ouch Chanthorn said the people had filed a thumb-printed complaint to the court asking it to intervene, but that the request had been rejected.

Licadho monitor Ek Sophea said the question of legal title was unclear, but his investigation had shown that the land was cleared in 1995.

Although the people did not have legal title, he said the governor might. He said Licadho would help them file another complaint to ensure the court investigated the case.

Article 30 of the Land Law of August 2001 states that any person who has "enjoyed peaceful, uncontested possession" of state private land since July 1996 or earlier may request ownership title to that land. 

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