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Two shot as Kandal land dispute turns violent: rights group

Two shot as Kandal land dispute turns violent: rights group

Villagers in Kandal Stung district have been locked in a land dispute with a company for years, but now the dispute has turned bloody.

AGAINST THE RULES

Government officials have no lawful power to overturn judicial decisions, including land decisions. "Unless the court's decision has been overturned by a higher court, it must be respected by all levels of the government," Licadho director Naly Pilorge said. 

TWO villagers were shot and wounded by military police in Kandal province Friday while preventing bulldozers from encroaching on what they claim is their land, residents and rights advocates said.

The ongoing land dispute between nearly 300 families and the Heng Development Co in Kandal Stung district has become more tense, with villagers saying they were upset by the military's excessive use of force.

"The military police came to shoot at us to make us leave our land," said community representative Eang Yan.

Local rights group Licadho condemned the use of violence in a statement Sunday and called for the arrest of the officers who shot at the villagers.

"In the process, they are using violence against villagers who have every lawful right to protect their land," Licadho director Naly Pilorge said, while monitor Am Sam Ath from the same organisation said that one of the wounded had bullet fragments removed from his stomach and the other person had bullet fragments in his waist. They were brought to the Chey Chumneah Hospital in Kandal province.

Kandal provincial Governor Chhun Sirun said that the dispute was built on misunderstandings. "I only gave the land to them when it was not owned by anybody else," he said, adding that the people "lived in anarchy".

Overturned court decisions

According to Licadho's statement, the Heng Development Co purchased an area covering more than 4,000 hectares of land from local villagers in the 1990s, but were later accused of trying to grab a larger area from neighbouring villagers who refused to sell their plots of land.

A group of these neighbouring families won a verdict at the provincial Kandal court in 2006 but said that the ruling was never respected by local authorities.

Licadho was told by a district official that the prime minister's Cabinet later issued a document declaring that the land belonged to the company and not the villagers, despite government officials having no legal right to do so.

Chief of the prime minister's Cabinet, Ho Sothy, denied that such a document had been issued.

"If such a letter was issued, I would have signed it, which I have not done," he said.

Chun Borith, representative of the Heng Development Co, said Sunday that his company had a land title for the whole area but did not comment further. 

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