Villagers in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district yesterday accused Finance Minister Keat Chhon’s sister Keat Kolney of attempting to re-purchase land at the center of a six-year land dispute in which Ms Kolney claims she already rightfully owns the land.
Sev Thvel, deputy chief of Kong Yu village, a Jarai ethnic minority community in Pate commune, said villagers had noticed some communally owned land in the disputed area had been sold.
“Some Kong Yu villagers witnessed land measurements taking place in the disputed area recently,” Mr Thvel said. “Then we received information that 5 hectares of land had been sold to Keat Kolney.”
Contact information for Ms Kolney and her attorney was unavailable.
Mr Thvel said he had heard an employee of Ms Kolney’s company had bought the land through the Pate commune office, and that villagers from neighboring Pril and Kong Thom villages had signed off on the sale claiming to be owners of the disputed land. “We have yet to see the paperwork,” he added.
Villagers in Kong Yu village have accused Ms Kolney of cheating them out of 450 hectares of communally owned land, which by law cannot be sold. A 2007 lawsuit against Ms Kolney has gone nowhere, with a rotation of three judges assigned to the case without action.
Mr Thvel claimed the supposed sale was the latest tactic of Ms Kolney to move them off their land. “Villagers refused to settle the case with her company out of court, that is why she is using her wealth to pay [outside] villagers to pose as land sellers,” he said.
Pate commune chief Sev Nhang confirmed yesterday he had recently officiated over the sale of five hectares of land to a man he named as Mr Penh. He added that Mr Penh was a senior employee of Ms Kolney’s rubber company.
“Those villagers that complain in court against [Ms Kolney] are not the owners of the land,” he said, before declining to comment further.
Man Vuthy, project officer for Community Legal Education Center, said that Mr Nhang should not have overseen the land sale as it would complicate the lawsuit and create further tensions in the area.
“I told the commune chief he should stop signing for the sale of pieces of disputed land otherwise it will cause him problems” with local villagers, Mr Vuthy said.
Ratanakkiri Provincial Court President Lou Sou Sambath said that as the disputed land was claimed by both Ms Kolney and Kong Yu villagers, it could not be bought or sold by a third party.
“If they have sufficient documents to prove the disputed land has been sold then it will be a criminal case,” he said.