KAMPONG Speu province residents entangled in a land dispute with a Cambodian People’s Party senator said yesterday they would countersue if a representative of the senator’s company followed through on a threat to pursue legal action against them.
Chheng Kimsruon, a representative of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, owned by Senator Ly Yong Phat, said yesterday that she planned to meet with her lawyer today to discuss the possibility of bringing a complaint against You Tho and four other villagers in Thpong district’s Omlaing commune.
The complaint threat stems from a demonstration last Monday during which, Chheng Kimsruon said, a group of villagers surrounded her car and prevented her from moving for eight hours. She said the actions of the villagers placed her health at risk because she has diabetes.
“I am sick. I was stuck, and I had no food and no medicine for treatment,” she said. “I will file the complaint accusing those villagers of physically abusing me.” She added: “We rent the land from the state, and we provide jobs for villagers in this commune to reduce poverty, but they always make a problem with us.”
A total of 11 villages in Omlaing have been affected by a 9,000-hectare land concession granted to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, which lies adjacent to a 10,000-hectare concession registered in the name of Ly Yong Phat’s wife, Kim Heang.
As part of demonstrations last Monday, about 300 villagers blocked a section of National Road 52 in Kampong Speu after accusing company employees and soldiers from Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Battalion 313, which is paid to provide security for the company, of attempting to tear down homes.
You Tho denied having been present for last week’s demonstration, saying he was “at a workshop”, and that a complaint from Chheng Kimsruon would prompt a countersuit from villagers. The 64-year-old, who was detained for less than a week in March in connection with an incident stemming from the dispute, said he would ask that the company be held accountable for the period he spent behind bars.
“I will do as the company does,” he said.
Ouch Leng, land programme officer for the rights group Adhoc, said any move by the provincial court to investigate a complaint from Chheng Kimsruon would amount to evidence that “the company is using the court as a tool to take over the villagers’ land”.