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Court queries three in KDC land-row case

Court queries three in KDC land-row case

KAMPONG Chhnang provincial court yesterday questioned an activist and two villagers in a case related to a land dispute with the wife of a government minister.

Following a three-hour questioning session, all three men were allowed to return to their homes, said Sam Chankea, a provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc who has been accused of disinformation by KDC International, a company headed by Chea Kheng, the wife of Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem.

The complaint against Sam Chankea stems from a December 26, 2009 interview with Radio Free Asia in which he suggested that the clearance of disputed land in Kampong Tralach district by KDC International may have been illegal.

Pheng Rom and Reach Seima – two representatives of Lorpeang village, where the land is located – have been accused of defamation and of obstructing the company’s development attempts by staging repeated protests. Sam Chankea said court officials questioned him yesterday about his comments during the radio interview.

“I expressed [to the court] that my comments were only responses to the questions the journalist asked me,” he said, and added that participating in such an interview did not make him guilty of disinformation.

The company, which claims to have purchased land in the village in 1996, said in 2007 that it had struck a deal with 105 families to gain ownership rights to 145 hectares.

However, rights groups say that 64 families never agreed to the deal.

Since 2002, the company has filed complaints against villagers five times, including a case last year in which the village chief was convicted of forging residents’ thumbprints on a complaint stating that the villagers had never sold their land.

Penh Vibol, a Kampong Chhnang provincial court prosecutor, confirmed that the men had not been charged “because it is the first step that we ask for clarification from them”.

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