FAMILIES in Kampong Chhnang province seeking a court fee waiver – enabling them to file a complaint over a land dispute with a company owned by a minister’s wife – had been rebuffed, villagers and officials said yesterday.
Sixty-four families living in Ta Ches commune of Kampong Tralach district had written to Ki Sopheap, the commune chief, seeking a letter to validate their low-income status and allow them to avoid a 12 million riel (US$3,008) court fee.
Resident Reach Seima said the families felt hopeless after their request was rejected because they were unable to cover the cost of filing a complaint accusing the company of stealing their land.
“We have no money for filing a complaint.... as recently, we don’t have enough rice to cook,” he said.
Reach Seima alleged that the commune chief refused to approve the villagers’ request because she was supported by the company and not locals.
“Villagers did not vote for her,” he said.
The families have been embroiled in a land dispute with KDC International – which is owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Suy Sem, the Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy – for years.
Several villagers and activists have been convicted for violations related to the conflict.
In January, Reach Seima was convicted of disinformation for alleging that the company had cleared 140 hectares illegally, and Sam Chankea, provincial monitor for the rights group Adhoc, was convicted of defamation for similar comments.
Both were ordered to pay millions of riel in fines and compensation.
Pheng Rom, another villager who was involved in the request to the commune chief, said officials gave no reason for the rejection. “They work in order to help villagers, but when villagers need their help, they ignore them,” he said.
Ki Sopheap said she had rejected the request because some of the villagers were rich and some did not live in the community.
“We are not supporting the company, but villagers were wrong – they are rich people, so how can I agree with them?”
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for Adhoc, said 90 percent of the villagers were poor and would not delay their complaint if it were otherwise.
“We are disappointed with the local authority’s decision,” he said. “It should be the right of the villagers to file a complaint with the company in court,” said Am Sam Ath.