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Villagers seek royal reprieve ahead of eviction deadline

Villagers seek royal reprieve ahead of eviction deadline

KOH Kong villagers facing eviction are hoping for a last-minute royal reprieve a day before a court-ordered deadline could see them cleared from the land they say they’ve lived on for decades.

Some 43 families in Koh Kong’s Chi Khor Krom commune, Sre Ambel district, plan to deliver a letter to King Norodom Sihamoni today, urging him to intervene in a land dispute that has pitted villagers against a pair of tycoons.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the land belonged to two men, Heng Huy and Sok Hong. In September, Koh Kong Provincial Court set a deadline of Monday for villagers to leave.

“We would like to ask King Norodom Sihamoni to help us cancel [the courts’] decision to evict us,” said Phav Nheung.

The appeal to the King represents a last-ditch effort for the villagers after letters to the Ministry of Justice, the Council of Ministers and the National Assembly went unanswered, she said.

“It is an injustice for us, who have lived on this land for more than 20 years, to be told we are living illegally,” Phav Nheung said. “They just want to take over our land.”

Chan Soveth, a researcher with the local rights group Adhoc, said the senior courts’ decisions were rendered without input from residents.

“This is an injustice,” said Chan Soveth, who plans to deliver the royal appeal on behalf of the villagers today. “The authorities and judges did not go to look at the land before the decision.”

However, Heng Huy, one of the men with whom the courts sided, accused residents of usurping his lawfully owned land.

“People have lived illegally on my land since 1993,” he said. “They accused me of taking over their land. In fact, they took over my land.”

Either way, tomorrow’s deadline still looms for the 43 affected families.

Mao Vanreth, 57, worried how his family would live if he lost his mango farm.

“I don’t know what I can do if they take over the farm, or how my eight sons and daughters will live,” he said. “We depend on the farm to support our livelihoods.”

District officials, however, do not plan to intervene.

“The court has made its decision already, so people must respect the law,” said Sre Ambel district Governor Bun Loeut.

“The people must move.”

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