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Villagers questioned over land dispute

Villagers questioned over land dispute

Five men in Koh Kong province could be prosecuted for stealing from a construction crew after the group allegedly seized tools in January, preventing the construction team from building fences in their village.

Police summonsed the villagers from Kiri Sakor district’s Prek Khsach commune for questioning yesterday, after SEZ Koh Kong Co – which is owned by tycoon Ly Yong Phat – filed a complaint alleging that in January they threatened workers and took company property.

“The company has accused us of threatening the workers and seizing construction materials, including shovels and axes,” Rot Sophal, one of the accused villagers, told the Post yesterday. “We told police that we did not threaten workers, but seized their tools and handed them to authorities since the land dispute had not yet been solved.”

Construction workers arrived in the area with tools to start building fences on January 24, even though ownership of the land remains disputed, Sophal said.

Yong Phat signed a contract with the Ministry of Environment in May of 2010, renting 9,977 hectares of land in the area for 99 years to grow “agro industry crops”, said In Kongchit, a coordinator with rights group Licadho. Hundreds of families lived in the three villages that dot the land, but they have since negotiated with the company and left; 135 families remain in their homes and farmland there.

“This lawsuit was meant to intimidate the villagers,” Kongchit said.

Police interrogating the five villagers originally received a complaint from SEZ Koh Kong site supervisor Lay Bunna alleging suspects incited people to use violence against construction workers, but through their investigation determined no violence was used, Men Buntha, a police official at Koh Kong’s penal department, said yesterday.

All five villagers were released after questioning, Buntha said. “I decided to send the report to the court.”

Bunna, the site supervisor, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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