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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Lost court file delays KDC land row case

Lost court file delays KDC land row case

IN DATES KDC dispute in Kampong Chhnang
1996
KDC International Company, headed by the wife of Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem, claims to have bought land that the rights groups Licadho says has been occupied since 1982.
2007
KDC International asserts its ownership of the disputed land, saying it has struck deals with 105 families. However, Licadho says two-thirds of the families never agreed to sell the land to the private company.

2008
Community representative Sar Song is sentenced to 10 years in prison on a charge of attempted murder. Licadho claims Sar Song was wrongly accused and punished for his activism.

2009
Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicts village chief Toch Ly of forging residents’ thumbprints on a complaint letter, and sentences her to 16 months in prison, according to Licadho.

2010
The remaining 64 families push for court action against a commune chief who they claim illegally sold their land. Legal manoeuvres are stalled, however, when a provincial court official reports that the case file has been lost.

ACASE file at the centre of a long-standing dispute between villagers and a private company headed by the wife of a government minister has been lost, an official at the Kampong Chhnang provincial court said Wednesday, sparking cries of judicial misconduct from rights workers.

Sam Chankea, coordinator for the rights group Adhoc in Kampong Chhnang, said residents of Ta Ches commune’s Lorpeang village asked him to intervene in the case after a court clerk told them the file was lost on June 4.

He said the file concerned allegations that the chief of Ta Ches commune used fake thumbprints to illegally sign over the villagers’ land – a claim the commune chief has denied.

On Wednesday, the clerk, Muong Sean, said he had tried for several weeks to locate the file, but had been unsuccessful.
“I put the file somewhere in my office, but right now I cannot find it,” he said.

The Justice Ministry released a letter in February ordering the court to investigate the allegations, Sam Chankea said. He added that, because no hearings have been held in the case since then, he suspected that the loss of the file was not an accident.

“I strongly believe that the court clerk is using this lost file as an excuse to delay or cancel this case,” he said.

The losing of the file is the latest development in a dispute pitting villagers against KDC International Company, which is headed by Chea Kheng, the wife of Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem.

The villagers, who originally totalled 108 families, say they have lived on the land for years. But in 2007, the company claimed the families had sold the land, and proceeded to bar them from planting crops.

Around 40 families have since struck deals with the company. The remaining 64 have claimed that they never signed over their land.

On Wednesday, Reach Seima, a representative of the 64 families, said they would protest if the loss of the file led to further delays in their case against Dy Doeun, the Ta Ches commune chief.

“If the court still does not bring our case to a hearing, we will file a complaint to the Ministry of Justice,” he said.

Other observers said Sam Chankea’s suspicions about the loss of the case file were reasonable. Mathieu Pellerin, a consultant with the rights group Licadho, said the incident marked “the latest example of misconduct and misuse of the court as a tool to intimidate the community”.

Last year, the chief of Lorpeang village, Toch Ly, was sentenced to 16 months in prison after Phnom Penh Municipal Court found her guilty of falsifying villagers’ complaint documents, Pellerin said.

In 2008, a villager was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison, in what Pellerin said was a thinly veiled punishment for the man’s activism.

“We’ve seen again and again ... the courts used as a tool to intimidate the community,” he said. “So it is not surprising at all to see the court now claims to have lost a case file, and that they can’t move forward.”

Phat Pouv Seang, a lawyer who represents KDC International Company, said Wednesday that the legal dispute is between the villagers and the commune chief and has nothing to do with the company.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY IRWIN LOY

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