Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Minister's accuser thrown in jail over land dispute

Minister's accuser thrown in jail over land dispute

Minister's accuser thrown in jail over land dispute

Ny Sophal, a spokesman for 59 families involved in a land dispute with So Khun, the

Minister for Posts and Telecommunications, was arrested on charges of land theft

October 18.

The detention of the 45 -year-old father of nine, who is currently in Prey Sar prison,

came the day after So Khun met with the families' legal representative, NGO director

Dr Heang Rithy, to discuss the dispute.

The villagers have accused the minister and his four associates of trying to force

them off their land, which is adjacent to a property So Khun's party already owns.

Earlier this year So Khun in turn accused the families of land theft.

Rithy, who is the director of the Cambodian National Research Organization, told

the Post he met the minister on October 17 and asked him to drop the charges he had

brought against the villagers. In return Rithy proposed his NGO would not pursue

charges it had instigated against So Khun and four others for allegedly falsifying

land titles.

The minister had promised an answer within one week, Rithy said, but the following

day police arrested Sophal in a village cafe under a warrant issued October 10.

The dispute has convoluted origins that began in 1984 when So Khun and his associates

were given a 100 by 30 meter property after they promised villagers they would construct

either a hospital or school on the site. Neither was subsequently built.

The area both parties now claim is currently occupied by the 59 families, and connects

the 'hospital site' to the road. Problems began in 2001 when the minister's group

claimed an additional 50 by 30 meters of land adjacent to their original block.

In May 2002 So Khun and his four associates - Luong Oum, Kang Nem, Oum Iev, and Phen

Khannith - filed a complaint with prosecutor Seam Sok On against three village "ringleaders"

in the land dispute.

Two months later the prosecutor announced he had found that the three villagers had

used violence to grab the land, had sold land illegally, and caused damage to the

property. He then referred the charges to an investigating judge.

However a letter issued by the Phnom Penh municipality's land department in early

2002 stated that the minister's original land receipt did not include this extra

parcel of land, and had apparently been doctored. An investigation warrant was issued

against the minister and his associates on September 9 accusing them of falsifying

documents.

However the judge investigating So Khun's complaints, Kim Sophoan said the minister

simply wanted the families to leave the water-logged area so it could be used to

supply the village with drinking water.

"His Excellency So Khun wants to drop the charges if the people leave the land,"

Sophoan said, adding that Ny Sophal was arrested because he had tried to disturb

the investigation. Once the probe was finished, Sophal would be released, he said.

"He threatened the village chief and threw stones at the police," said

Sophoan of Sophal's arrest. "[Moreover] he warned the three accused to leave

home and evade arrest."

Villager Prom Sophea told the Post that district and court officials had said the

villagers would be compensated if they decided to leave the land, but if they refused

they would be arrested.

"We do not want one cent from His Excellency So Khun," said Sophea. "If

the court rules that the land belongs to him, then we will simply leave the land.

But I do not know if the court has justice or not."

Local people estimate the land is worth up to $120,000. Minister So Khun refused

to speak to the Post.

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