A landmark legal decison is expected today which will decide the fate of up to 200
families in Kampot who are facing losing their land to an army general.
The families have occupied the land for generations and have proper legal titles
to the land but General Meach Man and his wife Uan Sary claim the land is theirs.
Ea Sopheap, the Legal Aid of Cambodia attorney for the first family to try and safeguard
the ownership of their small plot of land, Tuan Sann and Kim Sokun, said that the
general claims the land is his based on the fact that he commanded a military unit
that was based in the village to fight against the Khmer Rouge up till the 1990s.
He said the case is important not just for his client's future, but it will also
raise the important issue of whether military officers can take for their own property
that once had a military purpose.
He said the general and his wife have obtained a certificate of title to the land
dated 1996, but Sopheap doubts its validity.
He said that there was never a proper land survey done, the neighbors were not interviewed
as was required by law nor were inquiries made to establish if the ownership of the
land was being disputed.
Furthermore, he said that the man who signed the certificate as the commune chief
did not hold the position and was not entitled to sign it.
He said that Man's unit occupied a small house in the village during the battles
with the Khmer Rouge and on this basis he has tried to obtain a certificate of title
for the surrounding land that they never occupied or used.
He added that one of their strongest legal arguments would be that is against the
law for government employees to claim land in this way.
The Government can only take and use land for the public good not for personal gain.
Sopheap said the action "reflects a common problem throughout Cambodia of powerful
military officers evicting poor people with the excuse that the land is needed for
the army, but actually the officers want the land for their own personal exploitation."
He said it appears that the general has been planning to try and progressively take
over land from other villagers so it is important that this case is won.
Sopheap's legal assistant Am Sokha attended Monday's trial. He said everyone was
happy with how it proceeded but he could not predict the outcome.
"We were happy with the hearing but I cannot guess the mind of the Judge,"