Tractors carried members of 50 families from Lor Peang village in Kampong Chhnang province’s Kampong Tralach district to the provincial courthouse early yesterday morning, where their hopes faded as they waited for court officials to accept their latest complaint against a company they accuse of taking their farmland.
By mid-afternoon the 60 to 70 people who had gathered at the court gave up and said they would start walking the 90 kilometers from their village to Phnom Penh today. They said they planned to arrive at the Ministry of Justice on Monday morning to seek a resolution to their nearly decade-old dispute with KDC International.
“I think that the court is receiving pressure from someone [to refuse our complaints]. So, we will walk from Kampong Chhnang to the Ministry of Justice to file our complaint,” said 76-year-old Ou Keat.
KDC is owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Suy Sem, minister of industry, mines and energy.
Villagers accuse KDC of grabbing 522 hectares of their farmland. Villager Phen Rom said the joint complaint against KDC was rejected by the chief provincial clerk because they did not pay a US$8,000 filing tax. In July, it was rejected by the court because they did not pay a $2,000 filing tax, he said. As the cost of the fee rises, the amount of land they seek has fallen. Yesterday’s complaint requested that KDC return 100.77 hectares of the disputed land. In July, the villagers asked for the return of 145 hectares.
“We would like to ask the provincial court to order Chea Kheng to testify under oath along with us to find the truth. We would also like to request her to pay the filing fee and one riel in compensation [if the judge rules in their favour],” said Phen Rom.
Plao Deth, 50, said he could not understand why the court continued to refuse their complaints, and said this was causing them to go hungry. “We don’t have enough food to eat, so our sons have to cross the border to work illegally in Thailand,” he said.
Neang Ngat, 59, said two of her sons were forced to leave the village to work on fishing boats in Thailand because they had no land to farm. Provincial court director Teang Sotha said, “we will not accept their complaint if they do not pay their court fee.” He declined to comment further. KDC representative Thai Hy also declined to comment.
Chan Soveth, senior investigator for Adhoc, said that the court’s latest move placed greater pressure on the villagers. “The court tends to side with the company and powerful people. There is no balance to be found, no justice for poor people,” he said.