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Plaintiffs called in KDC case

Plaintiffs called in KDC case

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Villagers involved in a land dispute with the KDC International company at their home in Lor Peang village, in Kampong Chhnang province, in September last year. Derek Stout

Eight residents of a village of Kampong Chhnang province’s Kompong Tralach district have been summonsed to the provincial court to answer questions about their civil suit against a company they accuse of grabbing 145 hectares of land.

Four of the five judges hearing the complaints, however, told villagers they had been unable to summons the owner of the company because they did not know her address, or that of her company, KDC International, Pheng Rom, a representative of the families, told the Post yesterday.

Sam Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, who was convicted of defamation early last year for comments made to reporters about the company, also said that the judges told villagers they could not find its address, so they were unable to summons a representative of it.

“It shows they don’t intend to solve the complaints,” Sam Chankea said.  

KDC is owned by Chea Keng, wife of the minister of mines and energy, and a high-ranking member of the Cambodian Red Cross, which is run by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wife, Bun Rany.

Rights groups have accused the company of using the courts to harass, intimidate, silence and imprison community leaders. Five villagers will be questioned tomorrow and three others will be questioned next Tuesday, Pheng Rom said.

“We have been summonsed as plaintiffs [in the suit] to demand our land back,” said Pheng Rom. “The company grabbed our land and has not even developed anything on it,” he added.  

Pheng Rom alleged that in 2008, the company bulldozed plantations and rice fields in order to destroy evidence villagers could use to prove ownership, referring to fruit trees as well as the rice-paddy dykes farmers had used to demarcate family plots. In early 2008, villagers were driven from land they had farmed by armed police. Three community leaders have been jailed since 2007 and a fourth has fled to Thailand where she is seeking refugee status from the UNHCR, rights groups say.

Pheng Rom said the five judges had been assigned to hear the complaints, filed in late 2010 by 22 families, over a dispute that dates back to 2002 when KDC claimed land more than 100 families said they had been farming since 1982.

Meanwhile, 100 villagers who said they had lost faith in the court system gathered on Monday at a spiritual hill near the village to curse those involved in aiding the alleged land grab, calling for their lives to end in car crashes, drowning or other accidents.

Judge San Sophat said the spiritual ceremony would have no influence on the court.

“Whatever ceremony they hold, I don’t care. What I judge is based on evidence both sides have,” he said, adding that he had summonsed both sides in the dispute.

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