Kampong Chhnang villagers who have been hit with a new lawsuit over property that they and the wife of a senior government official both claim said yesterday that coming to court would be impossible, as they did not have a defence lawyer and needed time to locate land titles as evidence.
When asked for a delay, the court agreed and the provincial prosecutor has given the accused only until Wednesday to locate legal representation.
“There is no reason for them to spend a month finding a defence lawyer, because we only spend a few days, and it is also unreasonable to [cite the delay on] finding a document if the land is under their possession,” said Pen Vibol, the provincial prosecutor in Kampong Chhnang.
The dispute ramped up in 2007, when KDC International, owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Minister of Industry Suy Sem, bulldozed 145 hectares of farmland in Lorpeang village in Kampong Chhnang’s Ta Ches commune without compensating local residents.
Villagers have resided on the farmland for 30 years, according to the rights group Licadho. But the company claims to have bought the area in 1996 from Thai Hy, a Ta Ches commune council member. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The conflict wound its way to the courts almost five years ago, when KDC International accused 13 villagers of defamation and encroaching on the land. A villager is still in jail as a result of the case, and one had to pay a hefty fine.
Afterward, in September of this year, KDC filed a new complaint against village representatives on charges of incitement and destruction of property.
The four summonsed to answer questions about the complaint yesterday are Reach Seima, Om Sophy, Pheng Rum and Seng NGoun.
Rum said the request for a suspension was reasonable and stemmed from a practical need for a good attorney.
“I can’t describe how independent the court is because it works for the well-off person only,” he said, adding that a complaint filed by villagers in 2011 went nowhere, while this is being heard the same month.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at firstname.lastname@example.org