Five ethnic Jarai villagers returned to their homes in Ratanakkiri province after several failed attempts last week to meet with Ministry of Land Management Secretary of State Chhan Saphan, whose wife Keat Kolney they accuse of taking their communal land.
One of the villagers, 19-year-old Sev Khem, said Monday that they returned home on Saturday feeling that they had successfully brought attention to their case against Keat Kolney. The villagers claim that in 2004 they were tricked out of land in O’Yadaw district that is now a rubber plantation owned by Keat Kolney.
On Friday, Keat Kolney’s lawyer Chhe Vibol announced that the five villagers, who had visited the Ministry of Land Management on consecutive days in a futile bid to meet Chhan Saphan, had been summoned by the provincial court to return to Ratanakkiri to renegotiate with his well-connected client.
Sev Khem said the villagers have no plans to appear before Ratanakkiri Provincial Court as they are summoned to do on June 21.
The villagers feel that the outcome of their appearance at the court has already been predetermined, and they will therefore not attend, Sev Khem said.
Keat Kolney has offered to return a portion of the disputed land, which has yet to be planted with rubber trees, but Sev Khem said that she and her fellow villagers find the deal to be unfair.
“The community wants all the land back,” she added.
Eang Sopheak, a lawyer at the Community Legal Education Center, said the villagers were disappointed to leave Phnom Penh on Saturday without having met Chhan Saphan.
“There was no intervention to help them,” Eang Sopheak said.
“There was no one paying attention to the ethnic minority people,” he said, adding that he would urge Provincial Prosecutor Mey Sokhan to formally charge all those involved in the case.
“We demand for the prosecution of the authorities and conspiring people,” Eang Sopheak said.
Keat Kolney’s lawyer Chhe Vibol has denied his client’s involvement in any wrongdoing in relation to her purchase of hilltribe’s communal land in 2004.
Mey Sokhan could not be contacted on Monday, but his clerk Prak Soeun said the case was still being investigated.