Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Former allies battle in Phnom Penh Thmey

Former allies battle in Phnom Penh Thmey

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

Former allies battle in Phnom Penh Thmey

Fighting broke out in the capital’s Phnom Penh Thmey commune yesterday as evictees from a formerly united community were blocked from reclaiming their land by the very woman who once represented them.

Dozens of villagers, representing 163 families who were forcibly evicted from the area in 2005, descended on the site of their former homes yesterday morning, armed with tools and pieces of wood, ready to rebuild their lives.

“We will return to live on our land,” they announced in a letter sent earlier this week to Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatevong.

But hopes of a triumphant return were soon destroyed, as their former representative, 56-year-old Chea Sarom, blocked their attempts to build.

Sarom, who represented the evictees in their dispute with businesswoman Keo Neam, led them to victory in 2011, when the Supreme Court ruled that they owned the land.

But the families say that Sarom has since proved a turncoat, and prevented them from returning. Evictees accuse their former representative of putting false names on official documents so that she could claim ownership of the entire plot

Current representative Preoung Socheat told the Post yesterday that all 163 families had been left off of the land documents submitted to the court.

“Chea Sarom had been our representative, but when the court awarded us the land, she claimed to own it. She falsified the names of 163 families,” Socheat said.

Villagers yesterday faced off with their former comrade, who was flanked by a small group of people she said were the real evictees, but who villagers’ claimed were members of her family and hired thugs.

Fighting broke out between the groups intermittently, as Sarom’s supporters stopped the evictees from building by seizing the materials and throwing them out of their reach.

Police and security guards watched on as the two sides fought and exchanged insults.

“I always joined protests with you to demand the land, and I sold my gold … to pay for you. But when you won, you claimed it as your own,” screamed 68-year-old evictee Ngoun Chantha.

But Sarom said her opponents were imposters.

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

In November, Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Ly Sophana charged Sarom with “breach of trust and false declaration” and put her under court supervision.

A verdict is expected to be handed down at the end of this month.

But despite the pending case against her, Sarom yesterday produced what she said was evidence of the government’s support of her claims.

In a letter dated December 4, Ho Sethy, chief of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cabinet, calls on the Ministry of Land Management and Urban Planning to register the land under the names used in the allegedly falsified documents, as well as to Sarom.

A second letter purportedly penned by Sethy was sent on Monday to Socheatevong, the Phnom Penh governor.

“Please intervene with the Phnom Penh Thmey authorities, [and] Sen Sok district authorities to allow Chea Sarom as representative of 163 families to fill in the land on 9,992 square metres to build houses, and install utilities,” the letter reads.

Attempts to reach Sethy yesterday were unsuccessful.

Keo Sothoth, Phnom Penh Thmey commune police chief, said yesterday that he had not been ordered to support either side.

“We can’t say who is right or wrong, but we are here to prevent any big clashes or violence,” he said.

Mov Manith, deputy governor of Sen Sok district, refused to speak in detail on the phone last night, saying only that the villagers had returned to their homes without building anything on the land.

Nan Ony, a legal officer with the Housing Rights Task Force, said the letters in favour of Sarom should never have been sent.

“The cabinet of the prime minister has not studied clearly the court issues,” he said. “This land belongs to 163 people, not to one person.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Proof giants walked among us humans?

    For years a debate has waged about whether certain bas relief carvings at the 12th-century To Prohm Temple, one of the most popular attractions at the Angkor Wat Temple Complex in Siem Reap province, depicted dinosaurs or some rather less exotic and more contemporary animal,

  • Japan bank buys major stake in ANZ Royal Bank

    Japan's largest bank acquired more than half of ANZ’s shares in Cambodia on Thursday, according to a statement from Kith Meng’s Royal Group. Japan's JTrust Bank, announced that they had acquired a 55% of stake in ANZ Royal Bank. According to a Royal Group

  • Long way to go before Cambodia gets a ‘smart city’

    Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang will struggle to attain smart city status without adopting far reaching master plans, according to officials tasked with implementing the program. The brainchild of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the smart city program seeks to link up

  • New US bill ‘is a violation of Cambodian independence’

    After a US congressmen introduced bipartisan legislation that will enact sanctions on Cambodian officials responsible for “undermining democracy” in the Kingdom, government officials and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on Sunday said they regarded the potential action as the “violation of independence and sovereignty