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Villagers in dispute over land for new Kandal airport take fight to province hall

Oeung Sary was among hundreds of villagers urging the Kandal provincial authorities today to resolve their land dispute with tycoon Seang Chanheng.
Oeung Sary was among hundreds of villagers urging the Kandal provincial authorities today to resolve their land dispute with tycoon Seang Chanheng. Pha Lina

Villagers in dispute over land for new Kandal airport take fight to province hall

More than 200 people gathered at Kandal Provincial Hall today demanding intervention in a dispute involving tycoon Seang Chanheng near land earmarked for a massive new $1.5 billion airport development.

Protesters from four communes took complaints to Kandal Provincial Governor Mao Phearun, who declined to comment.

Six people summoned by Military Police were due to be questioned today over accusations of “incitement” after they blocked an excavator from digging on what Chanheng characterised as her “legitimate land” earlier this month.

One of those six, Oeung Sary, refused to appear before the Military Police, saying they would only “put pressure” on her and other villagers.

“Why does the one who takes our land file a complaint against us?” she asked. “We will not go to answer. If they want to arrest us, so be it.”

She accused the government of “bias” towards Chanheng’s business – Heng Development Company – and said the government was more likely to “imprison the people” than find them a solution.

Chanheng, who had her US visa cancelled after The Post wrote about the long-running land disputes and disclosed her conviction for forging land titles in Kampong Chhnang last year, doubled down on her claim that she had purchased the land that and villagers subsequently encroached upon it about five years ago.

The villagers, however, claim they have lived on the disputed land since the 1980s and 1990s.

“We saw and knew already, and the truth remains true,” Chanheng said, adding the protesters were “backed” by unnamed people.

“We are writing a letter [calling] for a public forum in order to meet the people accusing us of grabbing their land.”

Several high-ranking officials, including Minister of Tourism Thong Khon, three-star General Duong Heng, Phnom Penh Police Chief Chuon Sovann and Deputy Phnom Penh Governor Koet Chhe, have also laid claims to land in the vicinity and are embroiled in disputes with a number of companies.

Sorn An, 51, from Ampov Prey commune, said her grandmother’s land was sold to Chanheng’s company for 1 million riel ($250) per hectare, but they had not been properly paid, with some villagers receiving just $25 or $50.

“During the negotiation, they [the company] slammed the table in front of us and threatened us, they locked the door and called the police forces,” An said.

Than Khom, from Prek Sleng commune, said she and other villagers were afraid to enter the Military Police office after they prevented machinery from operating on the disputed land.

“People are suffering and are not satisfied with this,” she said. “You should build a huge prison to detain the people in these few communes. We are willing to walk into the prison if they arrest our representatives, and we will keep protesting.”

Updated: 7:02am, Tuesday 20 February 2018

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