In a sign that they no longer have faith in the court system, more than 100 villagers in Kampong Chhnang province, Cambodia, placed their fates in the hands of a higher power yesterday, and prayed for misfortune to rain down on a company with whom they’ve fought a bitter land dispute for years.
The object of scorn for residents of Lorpeang village was KDC International, owned by the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy minister’s wife, Chea Kheng. Villagers claim the KDC grabbed more than 500 hectares of land in 2007, but the company says its property was rightfully purchased. From then on, lawsuits have flown back and forth, and one villager is still in prison on charges of trespassing.
Lorpeang village representative Reach Sima said yesterday’s gathering took place at a pagoda, and was intended to represent an anniversary of loss. “We pray to the gods to insult the company and dealers who invaded our lands [almost] seven years ago. We decided to organise the traditional ceremony because we lost confidence in the court and authorities,” he said, adding that the land dispute has denied villagers their crops and forced many to seek work as labourers in Thailand.
For locals embroiled in losing battles with developers, “curse days” have become more common, said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. “It’s a sign of desperation; it’s also a sign that there is less and less hope in the fight and the legal framework,” Virak said, calling the gathering a “last resort”.