Land Dispute Judge To Stop Seeking Evidence

The Ratanakkiri Provincial Court judge presiding over the land dispute case involving Finance Minister Keat Chhon’s sister Keat Kolney said Sunday that he will no longer investigate the case.

“I have decided to stop participating in the process to find evidence,” said Investigating Judge Yar Narin by telephone.

In 2006, ethnic Jarai villagers in O’Yadaw district’s Pate commune sued Keat Kolney, whom they accuse of swindling them out of 450 hectares of land.

Yar Narin said he decided to stop investigating after both sides refused to pay court fees and after the villagers did not allow Keat Kolney’s company to demarcate the disputed rubber plantation land.

“I cannot hear the case with empty evidence,” Yar Narin said, adding that the court needs to know what area of land Keat Kolney’s company is claiming to own.

The judge added that under the new civil procedure code, he is under no obligation to seek evidence and that it is now up to the plaintiff and the defendant to provide evidence to the court.

About $1,500 is needed to cover court costs, as well as transportation expenses, and without knowing the exact area of the disputed land, the trial cannot proceed, Yar Narin said.

Jarai villager representative Sav Kem said the villagers did not agree to allow Keat Kolney’s company to measure the land because they are concerned that the company will mark off areas belonging to villagers.

Community Legal Education Center lawyer Sourng Sophea, who is representing the villagers, said Yar Narin did not specify how much each party had to pay to the court to cover fees, but regardless, “The party that is better financed must pay the fee.”

Keat Kolney’s lawyer Chhe Vibol said Thursday that the villagers are to blame for the court’s decision to stop helping to collect evidence.

“The villagers caused us difficulties,” he said, adding that it is up to the villagers, because they are the plaintiffs, to pay the court fees.

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