ROUGHLY 60 families involved in a land dispute with a company in Preah Sihanouk province’s Ream National Park asked the provincial court to postpone their hearing so they could find legal representation.
Village representative Prum Vinh, 53, said villagers in the province’s Prey Nob district were issued a court summons in relation to a land dispute with the local Oeung Sisruon Company, which is developing infrastructure for drinking water in the commune.
“They issued a court summons to us on August 11, ordering us to appear at the court to clarify why the company has accused us of living on private property,” he said. “They requested us to appear on August 24, but that is too soon for us to find a lawyer.”
He said the 60 families had lived on the disputed 1.7-hectare plot of land since 2004, but had not been aware the land belonged to anyone.
“The villagers have lived here with no land titles,” he said. “But this land does not belong to anybody, because we lived here when the land was covered in forest.”
He said the company first filed a complaint against the villagers in 2006. “At first I didn’t know the land was Ream National Park, but if anyone wants to come take our land [that person] must provide fair compensation.”
However, Ream commune chief Lin Sarin said villagers living there had been doing so illegally. “The government granted an economic land concession to Oeung Sisruon in 2007, to develop clean water on the land,” he said.
Cheap Sotheary, Preah Sihanouk provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said both parties were abusing a national park that had been certified since 1993.
“The court can process this case as long as the plaintiff owns the land title,” he said.
“We hope the judiciary in this case will use suitable procedures.”
However, deputy provincial court prosecutor Kem Eang said he had not yet heard about the case involving the villagers. “We have a lot of prosecutors and I don’t know who will cover this case,” he said.
Representatives of the Oeung Sisruon Company could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Deputy district governor Buon Huor also declined to comment, saying he did not know about the case.