Around 60 ethnic minority villagers in Ratanakkiri province have refused donations of food and clothing from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP, fearing that they in fact came from an adversary in a long-running land dispute, a legal aid NGO said.
In a statement Nov 15 the Community Legal Education Center said that on Nov 10 residents of Kong Yu village, O’Yadaw district, refused humanitarian gifts of 10 kg bags of rice, two packages of salt and two t-shirts each from local CPP officials.
The donations were being handed out to needy families by deputy district governor Than Kang. However, the event took place in the presence of two employees of the Progressive Farmers Association, which is a company linked to Keat Kolney, a sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon.
Villagers in O’Yadaw are involved in a bitter land dispute with Keat Kolney, whom they accuse of fooling them out of 450 hectares of land. Keat Kolney has denied the allegations and has counter-sued the villagers.
As the donation ceremony was being filmed, villagers feared that after accepting the rice and t-shirts, they might be accused of receiving payment for the dispute land, CLEC said in the statement.
“The Kong Yu villagers refused to take the gifts because they think the gifts were really from Keat Kolney,” CLEC wrote in the statement. Lawyers from CLEC are representing villagers in the case against Keat Kolney.
Deputy district governor Than Kang conceded Nov 15 that two of Keat Kolney’s employees had been present for the donation presentation, but only to help out.
“The donations belonged to the Cambodian People’s Party,” he said, adding that they had been received by about 20 people and were meant to assist the poor and widows.
Chhe Vibol, a lawyer for Keat Kolney, said that he was unaware of the donations but reiterated that his client had been slandered by the villagers and their lawyers.
Keat Kolney in June filed criminal complaints against the 12 villagers and their lawyers for charges including fraud, incitement and breach of contract.