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Three to face court over land dispute

A RIGHTS activist and two village representatives embroiled in an ongoing land dispute with development company KDC International have been summoned to appear at Kampong Chhnang provincial court this month.

Pheng Rom and Reach Seima, representatives of 64 families in Kompong Tralach district’s  Ta Ches commune, and Sam Chankea, a coordinator for rights group Adhoc, stand accused of defaming and obstructing the work of KDC.

The company is headed by Chea Kheng, the wife of Minister of Industry Suy Sem.

Sam Chankea said yesteday that he was not expecting the court to take such a step.

“I am surprised that there is a hearing,” he said. “I didn’t even know that there was a charge against me.”

The complaint against Sam Chankea stems from a December 2009 radio interview in which he suggested that the clearance of disputed land by KDC may have been illegal.

Pheng Rom and Reach Seima have been accused of defamation and of obstructing the company’s development attempts by staging repeated protests.

Pheng Rom said yesterday that he had received a summons to appear in court on January 18. He said the hearing represented an “injustice” to the villagers involved in the dispute.

“We have filed complaints but none were accepted. But when the company filed a complaint against us, the court took immediate action,” he said. “The court should not follow the power of money.”

Defence lawyer Sam Sokong said the hearing had not been preceded by a proper investigation. “It means that it is doubtful this hearing can provide justice to my clients,” he said.

Presiding judge Ty Samnang and KDC International representative Thai Hy declined to comment yesterday.

The dispute, which dates back to 2002, escalated in 2007 when the company complained that 108 families had sold their land but proceeded to plant crops on it.

Some families have since negotiated agreements with KDC, but the remaining 64 have refused, insisting that they have never sold their land.

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