Villagers in a land dispute in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district that has dragged on for 20 years were dealt another setback yesterday after the judge delayed a verdict due to missing documents.
More than 200 villagers from Stung Meanchey commune gathered at Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday, but they were turned away after the judge decided there were “too many people” and that some necessary documentation was still missing, according to witnesses.
The decades-long dispute involves nearly 600 families in the village who say that they have a right to roughly 20 hectares of land that is currently claimed by three businessmen.
The businessmen – Rotha Phirom, Voreak Satha and Kim Heang – bought the land in 1991 from 39 local families in order to construct a horseracing track through their lottery company, Beta International, according to Yong Phanit, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs.
The Phnom Penh court ruled in 1998 that the land belonged to the lottery company. But more than 300 families joined together two years later to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, claiming that they had occupied the land since 1991 and that the original families had been tricked into selling their land.
The 2001 Land Law specifies that people who have “enjoyed peaceful uncontested possession of immovable property” for five or more years have the right to request land titles.
It took the Supreme Court until 2011 to return the case to the Appeal Court for a second look, where it lies now.
Phanit said that progress on the case has been delayed by the volume of investigations, the large number of plaintiffs and the complexity of documentation.
“The investigation at the Appeal Court took almost a year,” Phanit said. “At the municipal court, it took many years due to protests. So, it already took 10 years to reach the Supreme Court.” He added that he was unsure when the court would reach a decision.
The land today houses a developed neighbourhood of 600 families, a pagoda and an office for the Ministry of Information, for which 8 hectares of land were granted by the courts.
Community members said that they were awaiting documents from the government after surveyors came to measure the land earlier this year but they were not available in time for the court hearing.