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Omlaing men called to court

Omlaing men called to court

TWO residents of Kampong Speu province’s Omlaing commune said yesterday that they had been summoned to the provincial court to face allegations that they are living on land belonging to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company.

Chhuon Chuon said yesterday that he was convinced the summons was related to a complaint filed by the company, the recipient of a 9,000-hectare land concession affecting more than 2,000 families. The company is owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat.

“The company wants to take over my land,” Chhuon Chuon said. “They asked me to move to a new area and said they would provide me with about US$500. But when I refused to move, they filed a complaint accusing me of living on the company’s land.”

But Chheang Kimsruon, a representative of Phnom Penh Sugar, yesterday denied that the company had filed the complaint that led to the summoning of both Chhuon Chuon and his neighbour Sok Than.

She said the complaint had actually been filed by the pre-vious landowner, Hab Ren, a councillor in Omlaing.

“The previous landowner tried to negotiate with the villagers many times, but they did not listen, so she filed a complaint to ask the villagers to clarify at the court whether they have any evidence to prove that the land belongs to them,” Chheang Kimsruon said.

Phnom Penh Sugar was awarded the Omlaing concession in 2009. Hab Ren could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Khut Sopheang, provincial deputy prosecutor, said he did not remember who filed the complaint, and that he was out of the office and thus unable to check yesterday.

Chhuon Chuon said he and Sok Than would appear in court on Tuesday, though he said they were concerned officials would move to arrest them.

On March 24, two community representatives from Omlaing, You Tho and Khem Vuthy, were held on charges related to the dispute. The men were detained for several days and later released.

“We dare not go alone because we are afraid of being arrested like our representatives You Tho and Khem Vuthy,” Chhuon Chuon said. “So we will travel to court with all of our villagers.”

Phal Vannak, a representative of affected families, said yesterday that the company had failed to send anyone to a meeting scheduled by Chheang Kimsruon for Saturday.

“Instead of finding a resolution for the villagers, they filed a complaint against more of us,” he said. “They are trying to threaten the villagers until we stop protesting for our land rights.”

Ouch Leng, a land programme officer for the rights group Adhoc, said Ly Yong Phat’s company frequently used the court system to intimidate villagers.

“The company uses the court system to force villagers to stop protesting,” he said.

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