A decade-long land ownership dispute has been resolved in the favour of villagers after their complaints were rejected by two provincial courts.
Villagers from Kampong Thom province who on Tuesday won a land dispute at the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh.
THE Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a group of villagers in Kampong Thom province are entitled to reclaim a 2-hectare plot of communal land whose ownership has been in dispute for 10 years.
The case marks a rare victory for poor people in a land dispute case against more powerful vested interests, said Chhuon Run, a monitor for human rights group Licadho
"This is a fair ruling for the poor - they have never before won a case in Kampong Thom against more powerful people, and there are a lot of these cases in this province," Chhuon Run said.
Sixty villagers from Tuol Ampil village in Baray district‘s Sralao commune were in court to hear the verdict.
After the Khmer Rouge was driven out of power in 1979, the villagers allocated the 2-hectare piece of land to soldiers so that they could grow rice.
But, the Supreme Court was told that the village chief and the commune chief secretly gained title for the land from the local land management office in 1999 and then sold it to a local businessman.
The group accused village Chief Pich Sean and commune Chief Kong Heurn of keeping the proceeds of the sale and said the two men had told villagers they could try to sue them in court. Neither man would answer his phone Tuesday to comment on the case.
The villagers' representative, Khourn Somon, said that their case was initially rejected by the district court in 2002.
"We then sued in the provincial Appeal Court, but it also ruled against us. So then in 2006, we came to the Supreme Court," he said. "And it is only now that we have attended a hearing and got back the right to control this land.
"This ruling shows that the Supreme Court is fair and cares about us," Khourn Somon said. "Now the Supreme Court will transfer the ruling to the provincial Appeal Court to inform them."
Another representative of the villagers, Hem Peunn, said the group had waited for this result for seven years.
"The courts always failed us - we just wanted to get this piece of community land back."
District Governor Seun Sab said that he did not know about the case because it was not on the register of disputed land.