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Land dispute hearing delayed due to illness

People dismantle the framework of a dwelling in Sen Sok’s Phnom Penh Thmey commune
People dismantle the framework of a dwelling in Sen Sok’s Phnom Penh Thmey commune in January after former residents tried to reclaim the land to build their houses. Vireak Mai

Land dispute hearing delayed due to illness

Evictees at war with their former representative filed a complaint yesterday with the Ministry of Justice after the woman at the centre of the argument managed to put off a court hearing, allegedly going to the disputed site instead.

Chea Sarom led the Phnom Penh Thmey commune villagers – who were forcibly evicted from their homes in 2005 – to victory in 2011, when the Supreme Court ruled that they owned the land.

But the 163 evicted families claim Sarom has since prevented them from returning by falsifying names on official documents so that she could claim ownership of the entire plot.

Sarom, who is charged with “breach of trust and false declaration”, was scheduled to appear at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday but, citing high blood pressure, successfully called for the hearing to be delayed until after Khmer New Year.

A doctor’s note from Pochentong Referral Hospital confirmed her ailment.

But current community representative Preoung Socheat said she was “doubtful” of Sarom’s claims, so she went to the site of her former home.

“I went to the land and saw her there. I came to have a look at her since I heard that she got ill and couldn’t go to the court, so why was she on the disputed land? It [her high blood pressure] was just an excuse,” Socheat said.

She added that Sarom had argued with the evictees after being spotted at the site yesterday.

Forty villagers went to the Justice Ministry to file a complaint about the case, which was received yesterday afternoon.

Nan Ony, a legal officer with the Housing Rights Task Force, said he also doubted Sarom’s claims.

“If she had high blood pressure, how could she argue with villagers?” he said.

Sarom could not be reached for comment yesterday. But speaking at the disputed site last month, she denied the allegations and accused her opponents of being imposters.

“We have 163 families, so now we don’t let these other families build homes on our land,” she told the Post. “I have never falsified documents.”

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