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Koh Kong villagers seek US intervention in land dispute

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Representatives of villagers involved in a long-running land dispute with a Chinese-owned company in Koh Kong province gather at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh on Thursday to submit a petition seeking its intervention. Photo supplied

Koh Kong villagers seek US intervention in land dispute

Representative of 26 families involved in a long-standing land dispute with a Chinese-owned company in Koh Kong province gathered at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh on Thursday to deliver their petition seeking its intervention.

The villagers said they had lost trust in state institutions after fighting in vain for a compromise for nearly 10 years.

A representative, Taing Koy, told The Post that the 26 families had been locked in the dispute over 432ha in Kiri Sakor and Botum Sakor districts with Union Development Group (UDG) since 2010. The dispute broke out after the government granted an economic land concession to the company.

She said the villagers had sought intervention from all state institutions at every level, but to no avail, and had also petitioned the Chinese Embassy, calling for the company to return the land.

“We expect that the superpowers can help urge the [Cambodian] government and China to stop the company violating our rights. We are landowners seeking justice. If there is no justice, we can only keep pushing for a solution,” she said.

US Embassy spokesperson Emily Zeeberg told The Post that the embassy would ask the government to find a compromise.

“We continue to urge the Cambodian government to protect the Cambodian people’s human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” she said.

However, government spokesman Phay Siphan said no embassy in the Kingdom had jurisdiction over the case. He stressed that only Cambodian judicial institutions have the power to handle legal issues in line with the Constitution.

“The US Embassy’s objective seems to be politically motivated and aimed at the Chinese Embassy. They [villagers] should not turn to the foreigner [US Embassy] and thereby advance its agenda. I encourage them to go to the Cambodian courts that have the authority to find a solution for them,” he said.

Siphan pointed out that the case had already been settled by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction in collaboration with the European Commission.

Soeng Sen Karuna, the spokesman for rights group Adhoc, agreed with Siphan that no embassy had jurisdiction over the issue.

Koh Kong provincial hall spokesman Sok Sothy said on Monday that the dispute persisted because some villagers demanded excessive compensation. He said some of them had also been incited by outsiders to protest while land prices were increasing.

He stressed that the dispute had largely been resolved.

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