3 Officials Questioned in R’kiri Land-Dispute Case

Ratanakkiri Provincial Court on Friday questioned three local officials over a land dispute involving Finance Minister Keat Chhon’s sister Keat Kolney and ethnic minority villagers, court prosecutor Mey Sokhan said Tuesday.

Mey Sokhan said that he could not give any details of the case or disclose the names of the three officials to the media even if the officials were charged.

“It can’t be allowed for anyone to know, [as] it would affect their reputations,” Mey Sokhan said.

However, Ratanakkiri court clerk Prak Soeun identified the three officials as O’Yadaw district governor Heng Bunthan, the district’s Pate commune councilor Pov Sar, and Pate commune’s Kong Yu village chief Phoy Svagn. The three were only questioned, Prak Soeun said.

Pate commune councilor Ro­man Porng failed to appear in court as he was sick, he added.

Contacted by telephone, Heng Bunthan confirmed that he had spoken to the prosecutor and stated for the record that he had signed the land sale documents. He declined further comment.

On Jan 23, 12 ethnic-minority Jarai villagers filed a criminal complaint with the court against Keat Kolney and local officials over the controversial sale of 500 hectares of ethnic minority land in August 2004. About 270 of those hectares have since been planted with rubber trees.

The villagers also filed a civil complaint, asking for the return of the 500 hectares.

Prak Soeun said the three officials have stated that they signed the documents legitimizing the sale of the land to Keat Kolney.

“We just asked [the officials] whether they really signed or not,” Prak Soeun said. “They recognized that they had signed, with the agreement from the villagers,” he added.

Ny Chandy, an attorney with Legal Aid of Cambodia who is representing some of the villagers, said that the prosecutor was working too slowly on the case.

“For a criminal case, this is too slow,” Ny Chandy said Tuesday. “He seems to delay the time to find justice for the victims,” he said.

Attorney Chhe Vibol said Tuesday that he only represents Keat Kolney in the civil case and declined to comment on the criminal case.


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