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Villagers accuse media of bias in land dispute

Villagers accuse media of bias in land dispute

VILLAGERS involved in a land row with the Heng Development Company in Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district publicly accused Deum Ampil News publisher Soy Sopheap of disseminating disinformation Tuesday after he published and broadcast stories that the villagers say demonstrated bias towards the company.

A print story, published Tuesday, quoted at length the owner of the company, Seang Chan Heng, as well as two letters issued on May 7 by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet.

The letters stated that on October 5 of last year, Hun Sen decided that the Heng Development Company was the rightful owner of the 200 hectares of disputed land because the company had obtained the proper land titles.

The Deum Ampil story also cited a letter from the Council of Ministers dated December 24, 2008, that reached the same conclusion. But the story did not include any quotes from villagers affected by the dispute.

Oeung Chanry, a village representative, said that Deum Ampil Radio had broadcast comments that also were akin to disinformation.

Soy Sopheap “accused the villagers of having sold that land already, but said that we wanted to take the land back so we could sell it again because now land is getting a high price”, she said.

She reiterated earlier claims that the cabinet’s letters were “fake”, and demanded that Soy Sopheap explain his actions.

Him Sophal, a village representative, said that Soy Sopheap should not make false accusations against villagers or take the side of companies involved in land disputes. “We plan to go to the Deum Ampil office to ask Soy Sopheap to explain why their story supported the company,” he said.

But Soy Sopheap denied his story was biased. “What I did was balanced because I took quotes from sources to write the story and I wrote what sources said,” he added.

On April 20, Soy Sopheap attended a land dispute meeting between authorities and villagers in Kampong Speu province’s Thpong district, during which, villagers say, he attempted to coerce them into placing their thumbprints on documents that they feared could later be used to cheat them out of land.

The Kandal villagers say they have been farming the land since 1986, but officials say the company purchased it in 1996 for rice cultivation.

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