Twenty-three residents of Preah Sihanouk province’s Bit Traing commune in Prey Nop district, who are entrenched in an eight-year land dispute, were urged on Wednesday by the Ministry of Justice to submit legal documents as proof of ownership to Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court.
“We do not dare to conclude which parties are right or wrong, only the court can investigate cases and rule on them based on evidence.
“We do not think about which parties are rich or poor. Most importantly, parties must have clear evidence with strong legal arguments on their side,” said ministry spokesman Chin Malin. He added that the courts are duty-bound to summon disputed parties to testify.
The land dispute involves 100 families who claim that Oknha Ly Yong Phat and Hong Suon, the wife of Oknha Siev Kong Triv had wrongfully claimed land long belonging to them.
Nuon Soriya – one of the 23 summoned by the court – told The Post that he had lived on the disputed land since 1990 and his ownership had been recognised by authorities as part of several government mandates.
Soriya said nobody had ever claimed ownership of the land, but over the last year, allegations came forth that he had been living on titled land.
“The land belongs to us. The land was claimed by the ‘oknha party’ last year and [they claimed] to have had the title processed in 1993.
“I am not making this up. I do not know who they bought the land from . . . only indisputable evidence can tell us the truth,” he said.
Soriya had occupied a plot measuring 40m by 40m on nearly 10ha of the disputed property.
He said that 114 of the 127 families had received land ownership from the commune authorities.
Long Vichet, another villager, told The Post that allegations the residents had encroached on the oknha’s land were “very unfair”.
Vichet also claimed he had lived on the land with recognition from the authorities, adding that he had not damaged anyone’s private property and depended on the land for his livelihood.
“I bought a 20m by 40m plot from villagers in 2016 with recognition from authorities . . . I do not understand why the court summoned me to testify in the case,” he said.
The villagers of Bit Traing said they would prepare the legal documents available to them –some would find a defence lawyer to help defend their case and appear before the court to testify on the set date.
Nach Try, one of four co-defence lawyers representing Suon and Phat told The Post on Wednesday that his client was engaged in many cases regarding disputes with residents in Bit Traing commune and was unable to express his opinion clearly regarding the case.
Try said that his clients had decided to file a lawsuit since he had the official land titles.
“Four land dispute cases have occurred in Bit Traing commune, measuring 60ha, 26ha, 17ha, and 2ha. They were occupied by residents who built homes on the property. Land titles were legally obtained by my clients,” Try said.
Chamnort Ram Village chief Bang Sokhean said 23 people among the 127 families who were summoned by the court “fully depend” on almost 10ha to plant crops to sustain their livelihoods.
The chief requested the court to investigate the case and provide justice to residents. He claimed they had lived on the land for years, with some occupying it since 1990 while others had shared or legally sold the land to others.
“Before becoming village leader, I saw 10 families living on 10 to 20 plots. Later on, they started to share the land among themselves. The agreement was officially recognised by the former authorities.
“Some of those people have been living there for 18 years and some for 20 years,” said Sokhean.
Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court director Sok Kalyan and the court’s spokesperson Yim Bunnareth declined to comment on the case.