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Farmers fear deal has strings

Farmers fear deal has strings

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Villagers from Kampong Chhnang’s Lorpeang Village, pictured last year, have recently been granted permission to farm land that has been disputed since 2007 with the KDC company. Photograph: Derek Stout/Phnom Penh Post

Forty Kampong Chhnang villagers embroiled in a long-running land dispute with KDC International, a company owned by the wife of a senior CPP official, farmed contested land without interference on Monday, prompting some to wonder if they were being coaxed to vote for the ruling party in the coming commune elections.

Villagers were confused as to why no one barred them from the land, which is claimed by KDC and its owner Chea Kheng, wife of CPP-affiliated Industry, Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem.

However, village representative Reach Seima suspects the new accommodation is simply because “it’s time to vote”.

“When we entered, the guard told us to bring more villagers to [farm] on this land,” he said. “We wondered is that a trick of the company? [The CPP] are good to us because they don’t want to lose votes.”

The land has been in dispute since 2007, when KDC International bulldozed 145 hectares of farmland in Lorpeang village in Kampong Chhnang’s Ta Ches commune without compensating local residents.

In early May, the provincial court ruled against a villager who demanded 30 acres of land from KDC, despite the company failing to provide proof of ownership.

According to Reach Seima, CPP commune chief Suos Siphay told Lorpeang villagers that he could resolve their dispute if re-elected. Villagers, he said, were unconvinced.

“We will vote according to our will to change the old commune chief, and replace him,” Reach Siema said.

Suos Siphay said he did not know the background of the Lorpeang land dispute because he was elected after it began, and denied promising villagers he could solve their land issues.

”I campaigned in that village to tell them I’d take care of all people’s problems,” he said. “But in this land dispute, I dared not to promise them because it’s in the court’s hands. If it wasn’t at court, I would intervene.”

Sam Chankea, a provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said that KDC’s motivations were political.

“In the election period, the company is not serious or it would affect votes for its political party [CPP],” he said.

KDC representatives could not be reached for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chhay Channyda at [email protected]

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