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King writes letter concerning imminent Koh Kong eviction

KING Norodom Sihamoni has written a letter to Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana, asking that the minister investigate a land dispute in Koh Kong province in which villagers are set to be evicted from their homes today.

The King’s letter referenced a note he had received from Kek Pung, president of local rights group Licadho, which, the King wrote, “asked for my help and intervention regarding the Supreme Court’s verdict on June 16, 2009”.

Kek Pung’s letter drew attention to the plight of 43 families from Koh Kong’s Sre Ambel district, who have been involved in a land dispute since 2006 with two businessmen who claim the families have been squatting illegally on their land.The Supreme Court ruled in June that the land belongs to the businessmen, Heng Huy and Sok Hong.

Tep Hai, one of the affected residents, said he was worried that the eviction will occur today, as he had seen several police cars driving on the disputed land. Despite the threat of violence, however, he and other villagers said they plan to resist authorities.

“I am very worried about the court-ordered action ... because it may lead to violence and arrests,” he said. “We will resist attempts by the authorities to enforce the court’s order.”

Phay Nheung, also of Sre Ambel, said that though she and other residents plan to resist the eviction, they would avoid using violence.
Heng Huy said he supported the court order, though he added that he hoped violence could be avoided.

“I will join with the government authorities in carrying out the court’s verdict [today], but we will try to negotiate with the residents there in order to avoid violence,” he said.

Sre Ambel district governor Bun Noeut and Koh Kong provincial Deputy Judge Meas Vatanea said they, too, hoped to avoid violence.
Meas Vatanea said he was not aware of any compensation offered to the affected villagers.

Ang Vong Vathana is currently travelling in Vietnam and could not be reached for comment.

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