REPRESENTATIVES of families facing eviction in Koh Kong province said they were permitted to meet with Supreme Court officials to discuss the fate of their land last week, but were prevented from filing a complaint.
About 20 members of the families who stand to be forced off their land in Sre Ambel district made the trip to Phnom Penh, and court officials met with five of them, the representatives said.
“The court clerks questioned us one by one about the background of our land, but they would not take our complaint,” said Phao Nheung, one of the five who was invited in for a meeting. “They wanted us to make a new one and come back again.”
The court clerks questioned us one by one, but they would not take our complaint.
The Supreme Court ruled in June that the disputed land belonged to two businessmen, Sok Hong and Heng Huy. In October, a deputy judge from Koh Kong provincial court visited the site to mark off how the land would be divided, with most of it going to Heng Huy. In a surprise move, the judge, Meas Vatanea, also ruled that some of the 43 families were living in Chi Khor Leu commune, headed by Chhay Vuth, and not Chi Khor Krom commune, headed by Toav Vann. At the time, Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said this was significant because Chhay Vuth was known for being “very sympathetic” to Heng Huy, who has said he plans to convert the land into a cassava farm.
Phao Nheung said last week that the provincial judge had been mistaken, and that the disputed land actually fell inside Chi Khor Krom commune, which she said had not been implicated in the Supreme Court’s June ruling.
“The land case that Heng Huy won over Sok Hong is located in Chi Khor Leu commune,” she said. “Our land is located in Chi Khor Krom. They are next to each other.”
Sok Phally, a clerk at the Supreme Court, said villagers had every right to reject the ruling, but that they would need to file a complaint with the provincial court.
“The villagers, as a third party, shall file a complaint of rejection with the Koh Kong provincial court, and not the Supreme Court,” Sok Phally said.
Chan Soveth, a researcher for the rights group Adhoc, said the courts should clarify the rulings so that the affected families would know whether they could stay on the land.
“The implementation of the court’s verdict is unclear, so it’s affecting the living of the poor people,” he said.
Pel Sovann, who was among the villagers who made the trip to Phnom Penh, said many of the families had opted to stay home because they were
afraid that their houses would be demolished if they left. She said the Supreme Court verdict and subsequent action by the provincial court threatened to rob the families of their rice fields.
Representatives of the families sought intervention from Prime Minister Hun Sen on January 25 when he visited Koh Kong for the inauguration of a sugar factory plant, but were stopped by security guards when they tried to hand-deliver a petition.