Representatives of villagers who are locked in a land dispute with Heng Huy Agriculture Group in Koh Kong province have denied a press release from the Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, which said the dispute had already been resolved.
They urged the Minister, Chea Sophara, not to just believe in the report but investigate the matter personally to ascertain the truth.
In Thou, a representative of 197 families in Chi Khor Leu and Chi Khor Krom communes in Sre Ambel district, said on Tuesday that the company cleared and grabbed hundreds of hectares of their land between 2008 and 2012.
She claimed that the land that was grabbed had been planted with cashew and was farmland between 3ha and 10ha. But until now there is no solution even though they protested many times at the ministry.
“Villagers are protesting to demand 2ha of land per family, in total 421ha, in addition to $7,000 per family. The land grabbed by the company is worth much more than that,” she said.
The ministry issued a press release on August 19 stating that the land that the 197 families were demanding was a dispute between 120 families with Heng Huy Agriculture, but it was already resolved by local officials, the relevant authorities and the ministry. Land titles had also been issued.
However, In Thou said the claim made by the ministry is false and asked Sophara to investigate the matter personally with them instead of making a conclusion based only on the report made by local officials.
She claimed that the land dispute that the ministry solved is in Chamka Thom and Prek Chik villages in Chi Khor Krom commune, which is some 3-4km from the land the 197 families are claiming.
“The land is in the same location [Chi Khor Krom commune] but the land of the Khmer Muslim people is on the national road, while the land of the 197 families is on the bank of a creek and has never been resolved.
“I would like to request Chea Sophara and Tep Thon, the ministry’s under-secretary of state, to visit the location and invite the affected villagers to point at the location of the land in dispute so that they can see for themselves,” she said.
Commenting on the matter, ministry spokesman Seng Lot said it was the ministry’s responsibility to issue the press release, and before doing so a technical working group had visited the area to investigate the claims.
“Accordingly, the information [in the press release] issued by the ministry is based on official information. It is not just issued without any consideration of the facts,” he said.
Koh Kong provincial hall deputy governor and spokesman Sok Sothy also told The Post that the land dispute, which originally involved about 1,000 families, had been resolved a long time ago.
He said the land in question now had owners and ownership had been registered according to the law.
Sothy said the 197 families had just gathered to protest early this year. Some of the families had had their land issues resolved, but they continued to gather in protest as they believed they can obtain additional compensation.
“If you want to protest, the only way is to go to court because only the court has the right to order the provincial administration or relevant ministries to review the decision.
“Resolution lies with the institution of the court. So the provincial administration has no right to overhaul and review the title deeds because the plots have already been issued with legal land titles,” he said.
However, In Thou claimed that the land that her group is claiming is the same one the company kept vacant without planting sugar cane. Hence, she said she will continue to make demands until she is given a solution.
Besides claiming this “vacant” land, the 197 families also appealed to the Ministry of Justice to intervene and request the Koh Kong Provincial Court to drop the charges against 10 people sued by Oknha Heng Huy in July and August for defamation and incitement to commit offences.