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Pagoda land decision draws protest

Villagers from Kandal’s Kien Svay district that are involved in a land dispute protest at the entrance to the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh yesterday morning.
Villagers from Kandal’s Kien Svay district that are involved in a land dispute protest at the entrance to the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh yesterday morning. Heng Chivoan

Pagoda land decision draws protest

One hundred Kandal province villagers descended on the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh yesterday to protest a decision to hand 2 hectares of land long cultivated as part of their local pagoda to a group of soldiers.

Abbot Yan Vanthoeun, who has lived in the affected pagoda in Kien Svay district’s Samrong Thom commune since 1994, expressed disappointment at yesterday’s verdict.

“I do not agree; that land has belonged to the pagoda since ancient times,” Vanthoeun said. “The pagoda’s land should stay with the pagoda . . . since the pagoda has a legal land title and the chheu teal and beng trees are the size of a human thigh already.

“The soldiers demanded the land, but they did not even know its width until the provincial court measured it.”

Kien Svay District Governor Ou Chheang said that the land had originally belonged to the state but was given to a group of soldiers to cultivate to support their families many years ago.

However, after a decade, the soldiers ceased visiting the land and the pagoda took legal ownership of it, he said, until they returned in 2007 to reclaim it.

“The land should not be given to the soldiers since the pagoda holds the legal land title, but I do not know about the decision of the court since it is the court’s business,” Chheang said.

Kandal Adhoc coordinator Men Makara said that the land surrounding a pagoda is protected by law. “As is stated in the national motto and constitution, this religion is the state’s religion, so the pagoda’s property is the religion’s property and no one can grab it,” he said.

Representatives of neither the Supreme Court nor the soldiers could be reached.

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