February 19, 2018

Villagers in dispute over land by new Kandal airport called for questioning

Kandal Military Police ordered six villagers locked in a land dispute with tycoon Seang Chanheng to appear for questioning next week after the tycoon accused them of “incitement” and obstructing her machinery.

The order comes two weeks after more than 100 villagers from Kandal Stung district’s Prek Sleng commune blocked Chanheng’s bulldozers from digging a dam on the disputed land, which is adjacent to a massive airport development project announced in January.

Long-running land disputes in several communes of Kandal Stung district have reignited since the project’s announcement.

Oeung Sary, one of the villagers summoned for questioning, said she was undeterred by the order.

”We will go to meet with the Military Police whether they arrest us or not, because we are fighting for our land,” Sary said. “We have no guns or power to fight them with. If they want to jail us, let them jail us.”

Read more: Will huge new airport planned for Kandal see locals stripped of land?

According to Sary, the bulldozer operators refused to say which company they worked for and blamed villagers for forcing them to leave in a rush, causing one of the machines to get stuck in a canal.

“I told them, ‘You were the one who went through it and could not come back. Why are you blaming me?’” she said.

The bitter and at times bloody land dispute between Chanheng and the villagers goes back more than a decade. In 2009, the conflict erupted into violence after district Military Police shot at protesters in a neighbouring commune, injuring two.

Licadho legal advisor Am Sam Ath, who advised some of the villagers at the time, said authorities should resolve the disputes as quickly as possible. “This can lead to protests and violence if the authority does not solve it peacefully,” he said.

A representative for Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation, the well-connected development firm leading the airport project, said she could not speak yesterday because it was Chinese New Year.

Minister of Land Management Chea Sophara and ministry spokesman Seng Lot also could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Chanheng, who has been holding a series of lavish ceremonies at her Takhmao villa since Wednesday, said she felt compelled to turn to legal means.

“We do not want to cause problems, but sometimes our patience has limits,” Chanheng said. “We need the law to step in for us in order to prevent some naughty people from causing problems.”

The villagers are ordered to appear for questioning on Monday.

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