Despite a court order telling them to stop, a firm owned by Finance Minister Keat Chhon’s sister Keat Kolney has added a second tractor and additional workers to a clearance operation on disputed land in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district, lawyers said.
Sek Sovanna, a lawyer for the Community Legal Education Center, said the clearances, which have continued for over a week, started earlier than usual on Oct 31 and with added men and equipment.
“The company added more workers and added a tractor to bulldoze,” she said. “They are totally violating the court order.”
Ratanakkiri Provincial Court Judge Thao Sarorn on Oct 28 ordered a halt to the clearance on the contested land, saying it violated a 2007 agreement to make no changes until a legal battle over ownership of the land is settled.
Ethnic minority villagers in Pate commune’s Kong Yu village last year sued Keat Kolney, alleging that she had fooled them out of 450 hectares of commonly-owned land, 270 hectares of which have since been cleared to make way for a rubber plantation.
Keat Kolney has countersued the Jarai villagers, accusing their village representatives and lawyers of fraud and incitement.
Keat Kolney’s lawyer Chhe Vibol said on Oct 28 that the injunction would not be heeded until the court had served it in person. The villagers say the renewed clearance has destroyed their rice paddy, forest and grasslands.
“As I have said, we have not yet received any order,” Chhe Vibol reiterated on Oct 31, adding that the clearances only affected grasslands prone to dry season wildfires. “I am ready to respect the law.”
Sek Sovanna said the plaintiffs had filed a request on Oct 30 asking the court to serve its order on Keat Kolney and enforce the decision. Court officials, however, could not be reached for comment on Oct 31, which was a national holiday to mark the retired King’s 86th birthday.