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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Homeless, disabled ex-soldier fighting for his land

Homeless, disabled ex-soldier fighting for his land

Homeless, disabled ex-soldier fighting for his land

A disabled former RCAF soldier, 28-year-old Phorn Tran has for a year been seeking

justice for his burned-down home and confiscated land, which he claims was stolen

and subsequently sold by the head of a relief organization.

Tran told the Post on June 21 that Sin Vanna, a security officer in his home village

of Kong Meas, torched his home. He further alleges that Touch Seour Ly, head of the

Association for the Relief of Disabled Cambodians (ARDC) grabbed his land and sold

it to a third party.

Tran said he filed a lawsuit at Kampong Speu Provincial Court in December 2006, but

the case has never been brought to trial.

Now, Heng Samrin, president of the National Assembly, and Tep Ngon, second president

of the Senate, have written letters to the Kampong Speu court and the provincial

governor to help resolve "irregularities" in the case, according to a document

obtained by the Post.

"I don't know where I should go now," Tran said.

"I've been seeking justice from the local authorities and the top lawmakers

from the National Assembly and Senate for a year and this has remained an injustice

for me."

Tran came to Phnom Penh after losing his house and land in 2006 in Veal Thom, Treng

Trayeoung commune in Phnom Srouch district of Kampong Speu province.

These days he sleeps at Wat Botum, and earns his living by carrying vegetables from

trucks to the market.

"I have no rice to eat, if I don't get hired for the day," Tran said. "I

can earn one dollar per day if I get hired."

Tran said that now he is too afraid to return to the village to fight for his land,

and even the high-ranking members of the National Assembly and the Senate cannot

help him.

"They burned my house and grabbed my land and threatened to kill me if I continue

to struggle to get my land," Tran said.

"I am afraid to go back to the village now."

Insult and injury

In 1998 Tran lost his left leg to a land mine in Koh Kong province. After the injury,

he returned to his RCAF Battalion 31, based in Kampong Speu. In 2003, Tran's commander

helped him to attain a plot of land from ARDC.

However, Touch Seour Ly, head of ARDC and a disabled former Khmer Rouge soldier located

the land in Veal Thom in 2003. Since then, some 2,000 hectares of bush and forest

land surrounding the village has been converted to fields. Veal Thom is about 6 km

from Route 4, at roughly the halfway mark between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. It's

an area where disabled veterans from the four main factions of the country's civil

war received land as social concessions.

Here, former Khmer Rouge cadre have joined with ex-Funcinpec resistance fighters

and members of the late Son Sann's KPNLF to live alongside those who once served

in the State of Cambodia army-which battled the three other factions throughout the


Cambodia suffers one of the highest disability rates in world. In a population of

some 13 million, more than 200,000 are disabled. Of these, one in four is a victim

of landmines.

The high level of disabilities combines with a general disdain towards those who

are afflicted, making the lives of the handicapped even more difficult.

ARDC's Ly told the Post on June 25 that Tran received a plot of land from the association,

but he broke the conditions of ownership and forced the association to withdraw it

for another disabled veteran. Ly said that Tran sold the land in 2004, and left the

village. According to Ly, Tran returned in 2006 and claimed that the land belonged

to him. "We had witnesses and thumbprints that Tran sold his land," Ly

said. "We pitied him because he looked like he has health problems, but he failed

to respect the conditions of the association."

Ly said that plots of land were contributed to disabled veterans who are not allowed

to sell them. Further, the veterans were required to stay on the land permanently

and farm. "We give the land to the disabled because we don't want them to be

beggars. We want them to live in harmony and dignity," Ly said. "If they

fail to respect the conditions, the land will be withdrawn."

Ly said that there are many problems in the ARDC because the disabled are poor and

some have sold the land and tried to receive new plots from the association. "It

is a disabled village, but now it is becoming not a disabled village when newcomers

buy land in the area," Ly said.

In-fighting and the ARDC

San Kan, 56, chief of Veal Thom village agreed that the ARDC is beset with problems

regarding land distribution, lingering partisan leanings and outright cheating amongst


Kan said that Tran became sick and he left the village for an operation on his leg.

When he came back his land belonged to someone else.

Say Sok Heng, LICADHO's human rights monitor in Kampong Speu who helped Tran with

the legal procedure, said that the court had just ignored to the case. "I don't

know why it's taken such a long time to try Tran's lawsuit," Heng said. "Tran

is the victim and I think that there is influence of the ARDC behind the court case."

Khut Sopheang, Kampong Speu's court deputy prosecutor told the Post on June 22 that

he was not aware about the court case of Tran. Ven Yeoun, Kampong Speu's court prosecutor

in charge for the case of Tran was not able to comment because he was relocated to

another province.

Khieu San, Funcinpec parliamentarian and member of the National Authority for Resolving

Land Disputes, said that he will write another letter to urge the court to investigate

Tran's case.

"Even if the government has performed well on poverty reduction and economic

growth, I think that the reform of public administration and good governance has

remained slow and especially the poor people are vulnerable," San said.


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