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Complaint rejected in high-profile land case

Complaint rejected in high-profile land case

Villagers in Kampong Chhnang province who have been locked for years in a land dispute with a firm owned by the wife of a government minister said yesterday that the provincial court had rejected their attempt to file against the company.

The villagers say the firm is attempting to push them off their land illegally and that they first attempted to submit the complaint in 2009, though the complaint has not been processed as local officials turned down a request from the villagers to permit having their court fees waived.

Reach Seima, a representative for villagers in Kampong Chhnang’s Kampong Tralach district, Ta Chea commune, said villagers had sent a letter to the court earlier this month inquiring about the total court fee associated with their complaint.

Yesterday, however, he said he had received a call from Chhoun Sivin, director of the provincial court clerks, informing him that the complaint had been rejected because the villagers needed to file individual rather than joint complaints.

“The court said the complaint did not follow procedure because it was a joint complaint, and the court asked us to file complaints individually,” Reach Seima said.

“Why is it that when the complaint lodged a complaint against us, the court took quick action, but when we complain, the court does not take any action?”

Kampong Chhnang provincial court officials could not be reached for comment.

More than 100 families have been embroiled in a dispute over 140 hectares of land with KDC International – which is owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Suy Sem, the Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy – for nearly a decade.

More than a dozen villagers and activists have been convicted for violations related to the conflict, with some forced to serve jail time. KDC officials could not be reached for comment.

In April 2009, Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Toch Ly, the chief of Lorpeang village, located in Kampong Tralach district’s Ta Ches commune, to 16 months in prison for allegedly falsifying residents’ complaint documents in his attempts to advocate on their behalf.

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.

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