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Kampong Chhnang court issues another summons in land row

Kampong Chhnang court issues another summons in land row

KAMPONG Chhnang Provincial Court has issued another summons in connection with  a three-year-old land dispute, though the court has yet to accept a complaint that rights groups say could help determine whether villagers or a development company are the rightful owners of the land in question.

Om Sophy, 32, was summonsed to answer to charges of inciting violence in connection with the dispute, she said. She is to appear in court on Friday, just one week after her mother-in-law, 60-year-old Un Tum, was released after serving 18 months in prison for trespassing on the 145-hectare plot of land that KDC, a development group, claims to have purchased.

KDC first laid claim to the land in 2006, prompting villagers to file their initial complaint in provincial court, which was rejected. Villagers and rights groups officials involved in the case say KDC bought part of a 512-hectare plot of land in 2006. KDC claims to have purchased the entire plot, including the disputed 145 hectares, and produced legal titles for it in August 2007.

KDC bulldozed some houses on one section of the land in January 2008. The following month, Un Tum, and Sor Sung, 55, were convicted of trespassing. Sor Sung was also convicted of attempting to kill a Cham labourer hired by KDC to clear the land. He received an 11-year sentence.

Lawyer Sam Sokong, who represents Om Sophy, said that court officials had yet to accept any complaints filed by the villagers. He said they attempted to file a complaint last week claiming ownership of the 145-hectare plot, but that court officials told him they would accept the complaint only if they received an upfront payment of 12 million riels (US$2,908).

Court officials could not be reached for comment.

Sam Sokong criticised the court for having only accepted criminal complaints filed in relation to the dispute, while ignoring the ownership issue.

Om Sophy said the court had also rejected villagers' complaints alleging that KDC officials had forged documents and illegally destroyed villagers' houses.

"This clearly shows that the court is biased and on the side of the company," she said.

Tot Kimsroy, from the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, said provincial officials had not responded to a request that villagers be allowed to farm on the land until the dispute is resolved. 

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