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Minister accused of landgrabbing

Allegations of land grabbing against the Minister for Posts and Telecommunications

So Khun and four others were referred to an investigating judge from the Phnom Penh

Municipal Court on September 9.

Court prosecutor Chin Chiva issued an investigation warrant against the minister,

as well as Luong Oum, Kang Nem, Oum Iev and Phen Khanith. He also proposed to put

the "wrongdoers" in temporary custody over the dispute with 59 families.

Chiva said he had issued the warrant without realizing that one of the accused was

the CPP minister.

Heng Rithy, director of the Cambodian National Research Organization, which is representing

the families, confirmed that the minister was indeed involved.

Prosecutor Chiva added that justice should be applied regardless of So Khun's position.

"In principle people have the same rights, so based on the law I'm not worried

because So Khun also wants justice," Chiva said. The prison term for those found

guilty of such an offense is between six months and three years.

In a January 11 letter to Governor Chea Sophara, the director of municipal urbanization,

construction and land management department Sin Sok accused the five of altering

documents to increase the size of their land holdings.

"According to the receipt there is a difference from the original receipt kept

at the land office," the letter states. Original documents show the holding

to be 100 meters by 30 meters but the apparently altered documents increase the holding

to 150 meters by 30 meters.

The letter goes on to inform Sophara that the "five owners possibly made the

correction on their own land receipt". A document issued July 11, 2002 by the

District Land Preparation Office confirmed that the original documents cited the

property size as 100 meters by 30 meters.

The disputed land is a strip of waterlogged property running between the road and

a property belonging to So Khun and his associates. Locals from Preah Ponlea village,

five kilometers south of Phnom Penh, estimate the land to be much larger than that

in the apparently doctored land titles. Villagers said the property they occupy is

186 meters by 39 meters.

They estimated that the land was worth around $8 per square meter, which totals $58,000.

However, they said, if the pond area were to be filled the value of the property

would more than double.

After 1979 the parcel of land was made part of a collective of state-owned land farmed

by the village "solidarity group". But in 1984 a 100 meter by 30 meter

section was given to the five men when So Khun was an official at the Department

of Hydrology.

The villagers said the men had promised to build a school or hospital on the site.

However once the land was fenced off it was not developed; the disputed area remained

common land used by the villagers.

Ny Sophal, a 45-year-old father of nine representing 59 families, said they moved

to the land in 1999 to avoid overcrowding in the village. But in 2001 So Khun claimed

all the land including the area where the villagers had placed their homes.

Then in June last year, said Sophal, hundreds of police, military and hired thugs

with weapons and axes came to the village and pulled down their houses. They fired

guns in the air, destroyed around 30 houses and broke the arm of one village woman

"I asked them to show us a warrant allowing them to pull down our houses,"

a village woman told the Post. "But the policeman said he would shoot us like

birds if we tried to stop him."

Last year Minister So Khun was caught up in a corruption scandal after it was revealed

he had been paid $2,500 a month since 1997 by phone company Mobitel to act as an

'honorary advisor' to its board of directors.

When the Post tried to contact So Khun over the land grab case, his mobile phone

seemed to have difficulties connecting. His only comment was: "I can't hear

you."

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