In a sign that they no longer have faith in the court system, more than 100 villagers in Kampong Chhnang province placed their fates in the hands of a higher power yesterday, and prayed for misfortune to rain down on a company with whom they’ve fought a bitter land dispute for years.
The object of scorn for residents of Lorpeang village was KDC International, owned by the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy minister’s wife, Chea Kheng.
Villagers claim the KDC grabbed more than 500 hectares of land in 2007, but the company says its property was rightfully purchased.
From then on, lawsuits have flown back and forth, and one villager is still in prison on charges of trespassing. While some of the families agreed to take compensation, the majority refused and held out for a resolution that hasn’t come yet.
Lorpeang village representative Reach Sima said yesterday’s gathering took place at a pagoda, and was intended to represent an anniversary of loss.
“We pray to the gods to insult the company and dealers who invaded our lands [almost] seven years ago. We decided to organise the traditional ceremony because we lost confidence in the court and authorities,” he said, adding that the land dispute has denied villagers their crops and forced many to seek work as labourers in Thailand.
KDC representative Thai Hee, could not be reached yesterday.
For locals embroiled in losing battles with developers, “curse days” have become more common, said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
“It’s a sign of desperation; it’s also a sign that there is less and less hope in the fight and the legal framework,” Virak said, calling the gathering a “last resort”.
According to a report published by civil society groups last year, villagers involved in land disputes held the spiritual ceremonies 18 times in 2012.
Pheng Rom, another Lorpeang representative, said the gatherings will continue as long as the dispute does.
“Whether praying gets results or not, this event will encourage us to continue our fight.”
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]
With assistance from Joe Freeman at [email protected]