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Kampong Speu villagers seeking delay in court hearing over land dispute

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Kampong Speu villagers protesting to stop sanctuary land from being cleared in Oral district in October of last year. SUPPLIED

Kampong Speu villagers seeking delay in court hearing over land dispute

Six people involved in a land dispute with Brigade 70 in Kampong Speu province’s Oral district have requested the provincial court to reschedule the first hearing from January 27 to February 14 as they have not yet hired a defence lawyer.

Soeng Sokhom, a representative of the people involved in the land dispute, said on January 31 that six people had applied for postponement on January 26 so they could get legal aid from rights group Licadho.

Sokhom said the land dispute occurred as Brigade 70 soldiers came with a sub-decree and took Udom Sre Khpos community land in the district’s Trapaing Chor commune. The soldiers did not discuss the occupation with the people of the community who were trying to protect and maintain it.

He said the occupation was an encroachment on community land under the name of Brigade 70 to deceive the public and that such action had been repeated many times. He said the soldiers initially said they needed 78ha to provide for the families of 41 disabled soldiers. However, the land did not go to the families but to a few individuals who shared the profit after selling it.

“We allocated some land to them that time. But it was not given to the soldiers nor the 41 families, but to a few people who sold it for a profit,” he said, adding that the soldiers had returned to request land a second time and the community had agreed.

The third time the soldiers came, they took the land without discussing it with the community. They used machinery to clear 6 to 7ha of the community forest on November 23 and 24. About 600 people went to protest, forcing the soldiers to remove the bulldozers. Currently, there is only about 700ha of community forest left, Sokhom said.

Sokhom said the soldiers had filed a complaint to the provincial serious crime police, accusing the community people, including him, of vandalism and public insults. But about 600 people went to support the accused community representatives, prompting the provincial police chief to delay proceeding with the case.

According to the summons issued by deputy prosecutor Tin Sochetra, Brigade 70 was represented by a member named Pen Sarith who filed a lawsuit in connection with intentional damage, threats, public insults and inciting social insecurity at Trapeang Chor commune’s Po Meas village on October 19, 2021.

Sarith, the plaintiff, could not be reached for comment.

Trapeang Chor commune chief Tep Nem said the land belonged to the Ministry of Environment under the jurisdiction of the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary, and that the head of the government had granted land to 41 military families.

“The military asked for a plot of land of about 200ha for the military families. The land is not in the community, it is to the north of its land,” he said.

According to a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen in August, 262.24ha of state-owned land in Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary in Trapeang Chor commune’s Po Meas village was to be given to the families of the 41 soldiers to build houses and grow crops.

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